The real Proverbs 31 mom

June 10, 2015

She was a new member of the church and asked me how she could get more involved. I mentioned several things including women’s ministry and when I did her countenance changed and she said, “I just cannot take another Proverbs 31 study!”

Why did she feel that way? I think it’s because we have often treated Proverbs 31 like a gospel-less job description but that is not how it functions at all in the book of Proverbs. In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified and folly is personified as well. They are voices calling out, competing voices, voices that echo all the way back to the Garden of Eden. In the garden God spoke to his image bearers but a competing voice spoke as well and said, “Did God actually say?” (Gen. 3:1). After Adam and Eve listened and obeyed the serpentine voice of folly, God spoke good news to them; he promised that there would be a seed born of woman would crush the head of the serpent.

Throughout redemptive history God continues to speak wisdom and the serpent continues to speak folly. In 1 Corinthians 1 and 2, the apostle Paul contrasts what he refers to as “the word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18), which is “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:20-21, 24, 30, 2:5, 7) and the “the wisdom of the world” which is folly (1 Cor. 1:20-21, 1 Cor. 3:19). Paul explains, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” and “Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:24b, 30b). In Colossians, Paul asserts he wants the church to know, “the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2b-3). Jesus is the good news and Jesus is our wisdom.

The most important thing

The most important and fundamental thing about the Proverbs 31 woman is explained at the end of the chapter, “she fears the Lord” (Prov. 31:30). Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Prov. 1:7, 9:10, 15:33). This fear is a sense of awe and wonder, it is the fear of faith. Psalm 130:3-4 explains, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sin, then who could stand? But there is forgiveness that you may be feared.” The real Proverbs 31 mom does not read the description of “an excellent wife” (Prov. 31:10) as a performance list to earn God’s favor. She is not building a spiritual resume to be proud of because her only hope is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no good news or wisdom apart from Jesus.

If Proverbs 31:10-31 is not a list to evaluate your performance or to cultivate a spiritual resume then what should we learn from it?

A Proverbs 31 mom seeks wisdom not wishing

Notice that the Proverbs 31 woman is busy living the life she has in the fear of the Lord, which is in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. She is not sitting around wishing she had someone else’s life. The list of activities the text describes her being involved in is very mundane. It is a list of daily, ordinary things that she does for her husband (31:11-12), household (31:13-19, 27-29) and community (31:20-26). If we were to translate the descriptions in contemporary language it would sound something like this:

This is not a performance checklist of all the things a wife and mother ought to be doing. Rather, it is a representative list, a reminder that this ordinary and mundane list of routine and daily activities can and should be done in “the fear of the Lord.” In other words, a wise woman is one who lives the life she has, surrendered to Jesus by faith instead of wishing she had a different life. This is also true for women suffering through the pain of infertility, miscarriage and single-parenthood. It is not about living an ideal life but living the life you have in the fear of the Lord.

The real Proverbs 31 mom remembers that Jesus’s life appeared to be ordinary and tragic by outward appearance: born in a stable, from a nowhere town like Nazareth, blue-collar parents, rejected by the religious establishment, a low-income itinerant teacher, with a band ignoble followers, crucified as a common criminal. There is glory in the ordinary in Christ.

A Proverbs 31 mom seeks purpose not perfection

One of the interesting things about Proverbs 31:10-31 is that it is an acrostic poem in which the successive verses began with the consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet and that it is permeated by language that has military overtones. The word “excellent” (Prov. 31:10) refers to strength, power and nobility. The language is often associated with a military warrior celebrating a victory and similar language appears throughout the poem. The word appears again at the end of the poem bracketing the entire discussion with military language (Prov. 31:29). Fearing the Lord in the daily, mundane and ordinary things listed is the Proverb 31 women’s battle. She believes there is sovereign gospel purpose in all of her daily service.

The purpose of the list is not to overwhelm women by calling them to perfectly live out this list. That would be anti-gospel. This is not a job description to use for evaluating yourself daily. You do not measure up to and do everything on this list. You need Jesus. He alone is all-sufficient. But the list does teach you that in Christ all of these activities have purpose. Too often the problems moms have is thinking that the mundane things on this list keep them from spiritually growing. Moms often think: If I could just spend two hours a day reading my Bible distraction free in my favorite chair then I could grow spiritually and really make a difference.

I once heard a pastor say, “Ministry would be great if it wasn’t for having to deal with all these church members!” I was thinking if it were not for all of those church members you would not have a ministry. The very thing he was complaining about hindering his ministry was what constituted his ministry. God has never promised any of us distraction-free spirituality—especially moms. Instead of wanting to get away from daily tasks to focus on the gospel, wisdom liberates us to see gospel purpose in all we do.

A Proverbs 31 mom seeks gospel not glamour

Moms are on the front lines of living out the implications of the gospel in the daily and ordinary routine of life. Most of us do not have too many mountaintop moments in our lives. Our spiritual battles rarely take place on platforms with thousands watching. Most often, they take place in kitchens, backyards and office cubicles. Most of us will be role players in our lives, not superstars. Mothers model for their children how to live the 98 percent of our lives to the glory of God. This is indispensable gospel ministry to children. Moms who fear the Lord train children to live with gospel joy and intentionality while performing countless tasks for which no one applauds.

One of the best theologians I know is multi-vocational. She is involved in meal services, interior decorating, supervision, custodial work, mechanical work, nursing, conflict resolution, interpersonal relations management, money management, continuing education, career planning, counseling and is on the clock in these locations 24 hours a day. While at the same time teaching theology and the gospel on all cognitive levels of difficulty and allowing endless follow-up questions of “Why?” Her vocation to me, and our 8 children, is not glamorous but it is strategic for the sake of the gospel in the Kingdom of Christ. Many women have done excellently, but to me, Judi surpasses them all (Prov. 31:29).

It is a tragic when a woman has the opportunity to be involved in what is satisfying and eternal and spends her time despising it and wishing for what is superficial and deceptive. This is the nature of the warning in Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

The anti-Proverbs 31 mom is not one who is aware of her own inadequacy, struggling with kids, time management and household management, not knowing how she’s going get everything done. The anti-Proverbs 31 mom is the one who looks at the list in Proverbs 31:10-31, abstracted from the gospel, and sees a performance check list to prove her superiority as a wife and mother.

It is also the woman who defines her significance based on the world standards. She may be busy performing her role as a wife and mother but she internally despises it, thinking this kind of ordinary, mundane stuff can’t have any real purpose. She spends her life thinking, “If only . . .” Her daily wishing spiritualizes her daily purposelessness and allows her to fantasize about the gospel difference and influence she could make, if only she was less busy and had a more glamorous platform.

It is the same logic that hissed in the Garden of Eden, “Did God actually say?” (Gen. 3:1), if only you would take and eat your “eyes will be opened” (Gen 3:5) and then your life will be significant. Competent super moms serve the purposes of the evil one just as readily as incompetent ones as long as they do not fear the Lord.

But the mom who fears the Lord, believing there is gospel purpose in all she does, who looks to Christ in her daily struggles and her readily apparent inadequacies, is an effective gospel warrior, rightly praised in the Kingdom of Christ.

This was originally published here.

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24