The heart of her husband trusts in her…Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders in the land…Her husband also [blesses her], and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:11, 23, & 28
I mentioned in an earlier post on marriage that I think the scripture that says the husband is the head of his wife is important theologically. We cannot disregard the parts of scripture we don’t like…or that we are embarrassed about because society doesn’t like them. Whatever the “Red Letter Christians” believe, we cannot neglect the words of Scripture because we, in our narrow modern mindset, think Paul sounds like a chauvinist. If we are bound to Christ, then we are bound to his apostles and church, and we are obligated to seek to understand and practice by God’s grace what He breathes through the scriptures.
Still, if we want to understand such passages, we must see them in their full context…the context of the whole of scripture. And, the true context of passages about marriage are always connected to the fact that the spiritual Israel–the New Jerusalem–into which the church is grafted is the bride of Christ, not any of us individually. Furthermore, this bridal paradigm is integral to understanding the church and the gospel. After all, in the end our Lord will return for “his Bride [who] has made herself ready.” Paul’s lengthy passage in Ephesians about husbands and wives ends with the statement, “but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
So, whenever we see in the scriptures the most beautiful and virtuous aspects of marriage portrayed, like in Song of Solomon or Proverbs 31, we can be sure that there is some reference to Christ and his church. Furthermore, when we understand their application in the larger sphere, we can more accurately apply them as the example of how we should treat our wives–loving them as Christ loves His church.
So what about the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31? She is industrious (vs. 13-16, 22,24,27), confident (vs. 21, 25), wise (26), and strong (17, 25); she cares for her household and for others (vs.20) and–amazingly enough–opens her mouth and teaches (26). Her reputation proceeds her and her husband also; he can trust in her fully because her works praise her among the leaders in the gates (vs. 31) where he happens to be sitting (vs 23).
How does a woman achieve such notoriety in a male dominated society like that of ancient Israel? How does she buy and sell property? Why are community leaders talking about her great works? Because her husband blesses her in all her works. He empowers her.
This is such an amazing picture of Christ and his church at her best. We as the church do all things through Christ who strengthens us. He frees us and empowers us as his bride and body to do the works that bring him honor in the city gates. As Jesus said, “that they may see your good works and glorify the Father in heaven.”
And what does this say for me as a man who would love my wife as Christ loves the church? I must give myself up as Christ gave himself fully to blessing and (to the consternation of feminists everywhere) empowering her. The sad fact about the current evangelical men’s movement is that they see the passage “you will desire your husband and he will rule over you” as the defining characteristic of Christian marriage–but it is exactly the opposite of Christian marriage. Those are the words of the curse from which Christ has redeemed us.
The Christian marriage is sacramental–it is the stuff of life that reveals the mysteries of God. Christian husbands are to call their wives blessed–no longer under the curse of being ruled over. We are heads of our wives as Christ is to the church–and whoever would be greatest must be the servant of all.