A Mother's Life Lesson
Topic: English Passage: Proverbs 31:10-31
I’m sure many of you have plans for today because it’s Mother’s Day. Like many, many other things in this life, Mother’s Day is a convention and a tradition. That means that someone in the past, with enough influence or authority decided to make it happen, and now we follow suit.
Whether you like it or not, there’s a day on our culture’s calendar called Mother’s Day, and that means you have to decide what to do about it.
I have to decide every year whether I’m going to change the preaching schedule. And, since I have a family, I also have to decide, along with my wife, what we’re going to do that day.
The other decision that a lot of us have to make has to do with the gift. What should I get my mom? Should I get her anything at all?
As a kid, that decision was made for me. My elementary teachers and Sunday school teachers made sure there was some kind of craft to give my mom. And in my mind, that allowed me to check the imaginary box next to Mother’s Day gift.
But as we get older, we recognize that Mother’s Day gifts, like all gifts, are not intended to function as standalone items. By that, I mean that giving your mom a Mother’s Day gift doesn’t give you a free pass to do whatever you want for the rest of the year. You can’t say you love and appreciate your mom just because of one gift on one day of the year. And all the moms here, I’m pretty sure, agree with me.
Appreciation and love and honor toward our moms are not supposed to be limited to one day out of the year.
We’re going to be in the book of Proverbs this morning, and one of the messages that we see repeatedly in the book is that wisdom means honoring and esteeming your mother. And since wisdom is connected to honoring your mother, foolishness is equated with dishonoring to your mother.
Let me read some of those verses for you. You don’t have to write them down. But I want you to hear the message over and over.
Proverbs 10:1 says: a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.
Proverbs 15:20—a foolish man despises his mother
Proverbs 19:26—He who drives his mother away is a shameful and disgraceful son.
Proverbs 23:22—do not despise your mother when she is old.
Proverbs 23:25—Let your mother be glad, let her rejoice who gave birth to you.
And lastly Proverbs 29:15 tells us: a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
Those are verses primarily aimed at the child. But Proverbs doesn’t just have lessons for us kids. There are lessons here for the parents too. Mom and Dad, God didn’t intend for you to sit back today, and just say, “See. Listen to the message.”
Yes, the Proverbs show us the responsibility of a son, but they also point to the responsibility of a parent. And for today, our focus is on the mothers.
Dads obviously have a responsibility to teach their children, but so do moms. In fact, I might say that a mother’s teaching is far more extensive than a father’s. And I say that because in the early years, in those very foundational and formative years of life, children typically spend so much more time with Mom than Dad.
And in that time, moms, you’re doing much more than ensuring your kids don’t die; you’re teaching them. You’re teaching them with words and with your example. And Proverbs makes mention of a mother’s teaching.
Proverbs 1:8 says: forsake not your mother's teaching, and the very same thing is repeated in Proverbs 6:20. Moms have a tremendous role in teaching and raising children.
Kids are responsible to walk in obedience and wisdom. At the same time though, us dads and moms have the responsibility to teach them what wisdom actually is.
Teaching them wisdom doesn’t guarantee they’ll walk in it. We all know that. But if we don’t teach them wisdom, then they won’t know how to walk and how to fear and honor the Lord and open themselves up to His blessing.
With that in mind, this morning I want us to look at a specific passage in Proverbs where we have a specific teaching of a mother. And for that, we need to turn to Proverbs chapter 31. Proverbs 31. And I’d like you to look with me at verse 1. Proverbs 31, verse 1. This is a very common passage used for Mother’s Day, but we don’t always think about the context.
It says there: The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him.
We have no idea who King Lemuel is, but the phrase “King Lemuel” means “King for God.” So it’s possible that it’s not actually his real name. It could have been a pseudonym for King Solomon.
But whoever originally wrote this Proverb, we know that this was a very memorable lesson given to him by his mother so that he would rule justly, so that he would rule for the Lord.
And recognizing the wisdom of his mother, he records it so that it would be passed to his sons and then his sons’ sons. This is such a vital message.
If you read the rest of the chapter, you notice that, just like we’ve seen repeated in the rest of the book, this mom wants her son to avoid ruining his life. No mother wants to see that. It hurts.
And in trying to keep her son away from danger, she presents two major warnings. Verse 3 warns him about women and verse 4 warns him about wine, or strong drink. Women and wine—those are the dangers. That’s what he is to avoid if he wants to rule justly.
But on the positive side, what does she want for him? When this king sat down and thought about the wisdom his mother gave him, what instruction did he include? … He included the instruction on what to look for in a wife—what to look for in a wife.
Now, from personal experience, I will tell you that of the greatest gifts that I’ve ever given my mom, probably none of them were given to her on Mother’s Day. The greatest gift a Christian mother could have is knowing her son has come to faith in Jesus Christ. But apart from that, one of the greatest gifts and blessings I have given my mom is marrying my wife.
Guys and gals, I hope you know this already, but the person you marry is a big decision. And it has an enormous effect, not just on your own life, but on your parents as well. Don’t marry some fool, no matter how attractive he or she makes you feel! And don’t jump into marrying the first pretty face you come across. Marriage requires much more.
And for you young men, this is the help that Proverbs 31 gives.
Growing up, the impression I got from Proverbs 31 was that this is a description of a virtuous woman, written to instruct wives or future wives how to live and honor God. And that’s true in a secondary sense. It will help you women.
But you need to remember that this is a teaching from a mother to a son, and then to his sons. And the lesson here was given so that the young man would know what to look for in a woman whom he will marry. That’s the primary point.
This section is not primarily written to women. It was initially given by a woman to help her son find a suitable wife, or, to use the words of the Proverbs, an excellent wife.
Look at Proverbs 31:10 with me. It starts with a rhetorical question: An excellent wife who can find?
That word “excellent” speaks of value and productivity. Sometimes it’s translated with regard to wealth, and sometimes that word is translated with regard to ability or strength. Either way, it speaks to something desirable, something excellent, something praiseworthy.
This mom wants her son to marry an excellent wife. And to make the lesson exceptionally memorable, it’s recorded for us as an acrostic. We can’t see it in an English translation, but in the Hebrew, from verses 10-31, each verse begins with the next letter of the alphabet.
And that’s not just a poetic way of making the lesson memorable. It’s also a way of highlighting the complete picture of the wife we’re going to be given. This is the excellent wife. She has everything from A to Z.
This is, we can say, the ideal picture of a wife. And since it’s ideal, we also have to admit that nobody perfectly fits this description. This isn’t a message aimed at shaming women for how imperfect they are. It’s a message aimed at giving a son the ideal criteria, so that his expectations go up.
And by extension, young ladies, this is what you should be aspiring to be. Dad, this is what you should be cultivating in your daughters and in your wife.
Moms, I believe that your character has a great impact on the woman your sons will choose to marry. You’re setting the bar for them. And so, for your own joy later in life, set it high. If you settle in your own life, you run the risk of your son settling in his own choice for a wife. And young men, no matter where you think your mom ranks on this scale, know that this is God’s wisdom for you. This is the ideal woman.
Let’s read it from Proverbs 31:10-31
So, how can we summarize all this? What are the attributes of the excellent wife? I’ve narrowed it down to four characteristics, four attributes. And hopefully they’re easier to remember than 22 verses. How can we describe the excellent wife?
The first characteristic is that she is DILIGENT. She is diligent. The majority of this passage tells us that this woman is a hard worker.
Let’s start in verse 13 for this. She seeks wool and flax and works with willing hands. Wool and flax were used to make fabric. But that takes work. Anyone could collect wool and flax, but the work comes in turning it into something useful. Anyone can have a garage full of junk, but the diligent woman works. She puts it to use.
The opposite of diligence is laziness. I plan on talking about that more next week, so this is a good connection. The diligent woman contributes to the home. She’s productive. The family isn’t there just for her benefit. She is there for their benefit.
And the picture you get in these verses don’t just include a hard worker. They include someone with some business savvy. There’s industry.
Verse 14 says she’s like a merchant ship bringing food from afar. Today, this is the mom coming home from Costco or the grocery store. She’s driving around. She finds the best bargains.
Verse 15—She rises while it is yet night. And the idea there is that she’s taking care of others in the home, and she’s planning out the day.
I remember reading about one Christian leader who was confronted by a woman saying she didn’t think this passage was fair because the Proverbs 31 woman has servants to help, and the lady didn’t. And the pastor said to her: “Ma’am, you’ve got plenty of servants. You have a refrigerator to keep food fresh. You have an oven. You have a toaster. You have a stove. You have a washer and a dryer. You have all manner of appliances that this woman didn’t have.” That’s a sobering reminder to be more concerned with what we have than what we don’t have.
Verse 16 points us directly to this woman’s wisdom. She considers a field and buys it, and she plants a vineyard. This is a woman who knows about investments, she knows about how the world works. She knows how to make financial decisions that will benefit her home.
And it’s a reminder to us that the Bible never forbids a woman from working outside the home. It just reminds us that any pursuit outside the home should never overshadow the primary work in the home.
Verse 17 says she’s strong. That’s because her diligence isn’t just a one-day anomaly. She’s trained herself to work.
And verse 18 says her merchandise is profitable. It also says her lamp doesn’t go out at night. So she could have a team of servants working all night long. And they’re provided for.
But verse 19 reminds us that it’s not all delegation. She puts her hand to the distaff and the spindle. She’s working too. She’s working with the fabric. Doing what?
Look at verses 22 and 24. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Verse 24—she makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. She’s doing her part to provide for the house. She’s working. She is diligent. She is productive.
Lastly, look at the way verse 27 says it. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. A woman who sits in the house all day, nibling on snacks, is costing the family. But the woman who works is contributing. She’s adding to the bread not taking it away.
In today’s context, we could picture someone who, instead of doing their chores in the house, is sitting at the table or on the couch, staring at a phone or watching Netflix. That’s the bread of idleness. There’s stuff to be done, but it’s a lot easier to just sit around.
Guys, if you’re looking at a potential wife, or a girlfriend (which is basically a potential wife), you have to ask yourself: “Is she a hard worker? Is she industrious? Can she complete tasks assigned to her and can she complete tasks that haven’t been assigned to her? Can she take initiative?”
Nobody is perfect here, and this doesn’t mean a wife has to work a job outside the home. But it means that you want a wife who will contribute to the home, not take from it. You want a diligent wife.
Now, set against that diligence, the second characteristic is so important. The excellent wife is not only diligent, she is compassionate. She is compassionate.
You know, many times you’ll find someone who’s a hard worker, but that diligence has made them bitter. They don’t work with joy. They don’t work with willing hands. They work with resentment. They resent their duties and they look down on those who are less fortunate. It’s like they think, “Look at how successful I’ve made myself through my own hard work. I did it all myself, with nobody’s help.” And so, they resent helping others.
But that’s not the Proverbs 31 woman. Look at verse 20. What does it say? She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.
Yes, she’s diligent and provides for her home. But she’s also compassionate and she provides for those in need. She’s not so consumed with her own work, that she won’t stop to help someone else.
Look at verse 26 too. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue… So, she’s compassionate and kind, in her actions and in her words.
Guys, if you’re looking at a young lady as someone you would potentially marry, you have to ask yourself: “Is she nice? Is she a compassionate person? Is she kind?”
Generally, she’ll be kind to you when you’re dating, but’s that not enough. How does she treat her little brother or her little sister? How does she respond to her parents or her coworkers or the difficult clients at work? How does she treat the other people in her life?
If she doesn’t show compassion to the people she considers lower than her, she won’t show you compassion once she really gets to know you. She’ll learn all your faults, and then she won’t be kind anymore. She won’t be gracious. Don’t marry a mean person. Find a woman of compassion.
Moms, isn’t that what you want for your boys? Of course it is. Nobody wants a daughter-in-law who’s gonna treat them like dirt. Guys, find a nice girl. And I mean that in the biblical sense. Find a girl who understands what it means to be compassionate.
Well, let’s move on to our third attribute. What should we look for in an excellent or virtuous wife? Number 3, you should be looking for a girl who is blessed. She’s blessed.
I need to unpack what I mean by that. I don’t mean that she has to be rich or famous or anything like that. What I mean is two things. First of all, she should recognize the blessing of God upon her life, and secondly, she should be a blessing to others. She should be blessed and she should be a blessing.
A good parallel would be Joseph from the book of Genesis. Joseph recognized that God was with him. He trusted in God’d blessing. And wherever Joseph went, for better or for worse, he was a blessing to others. That is an amazing description of a person! And it’s what you guys should be looking for in a wife. You want a woman of blessing, or a woman of blessedness.
One of the ways that this comes through in a person is confidence and joy. Even in difficult circumstances, this is a person who recognizes that God is with them.
Look with me at verse 21. She [the excellent wife] is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. Scarlet would have been a color that marks luxury. This is well-made clothing.
It’s also possible that the original says “double layered clothing,” and some translations choose that option. Either way, it means that her household is provided for. And because of that, she’s not afraid of the winter.
Obviously the clothes came from her own hands, but beyond that, this is a woman who recognizes that God is watching over them.
Look at verse 25. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She laughs. She’s not a worrisome person. Why? Becaue she recognizes that God is watching over her. She is confident in the Lord more than she is in her own abilities. She knows God has blessed her.
And as an extension of that, she is a blessing to others. Skip back up to verses 11 and 12. Notice how it describes her relationship with her husband. Verse 11—The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
Gentlemen, that’s what you want to be able to say about your wife. You need to be able to trust her. She should be trustworthy. That doesn’t mean she’ll never make a mistake. It means you trust that in general she is a benefit to you.
If you’re looking at a girl, and you’re wondering if you should pursue some kind of relationship that could lead to marriage, if that girl works somewhere ask yourself, “is she a blessing in that company?” Are they more blessed there because of her?
And if she doesn’t work, you can look at her life at home and her life at church. It can’t simply be a personal, privatized diligence and compassion. It needs to be a diligence and a compassion that serves others and benefits others. She should be a blessing to others. If she’s a blessing to others now, then, more than likely, she’ll be a blessing to you once you’re married.
So again, look for a woman marked by diligence, by compassion, and by blessedness. You want a woman who will be a blessing to you and to your family.
And this brings us to our fourth and final attribute for today. What should we be looking for in an excellent wife? Number 4, you want a woman who is admired. The excellent wife is admired, or admirable.
This is basically the summation of all we’ve been saying. If a woman is an excellent wife, she will have people who admire her, who esteem her, who hold her in a high regard.
Go back with me to verse 10 of the chapter. Remember, this section opens with the question, “An excellent wife who can find?” And that questions points to how rare she is. And if something is rare, then it’s usually valuable too. And that’s what the second half of the verse says. She is far more precious than jewels. Some translations say “more precious than rubies.”
The mother who originally gave this lesson and the son who recorded it recognize the value of an excellent wife. They admire this woman. But they’re not alone.
Skip down to verse 23. Look at what it says. Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.
That’s not saying that she married some famous guy who got some nobility in the city. That’s talking about her reputation. She is such an excellent, blessed woman that people know about it. “There’s that man who’s married to that amazing woman.”
Guys, that’s what you want. You want a catch. You want someone that other people admire. But, and this is the important part, you want someone admired for the qualities we’ve already been saying.
You don’t pick someone just because your friends say she’s good looking. You want someone whom the community admires. Find someone that others will approve of.
And this is a word of wisdom to you guys: Don’t go out and get yourself some secret girlfriend that nobody knows about. That’s not the way to do it. That’s a lack of maturity. That is foolishness. Proverbs says, “He who isolates himself seeks his own desire. He breaks out against all sound wisdom.”
Guys, you want a girl that people know about, and you want a relationship that people can speak into.
Girls, if some guy says he wants to be your boyfriend, but he doesn’t want anybody else to know about it, don’t go through with that. You don’t want a guy who has some ulterior motive or who is embarrassed about you. You want a man with the joy and the fortitude to let others know he’s interested in marrying you.
One of the resources I’ve used in pre-marital counseling is a booklet that includes five questions that a couple should ask themselves before they get engaged, and obviously before they get married. One of those questions is, “What do others think about your relationship?”
You need people who can talk openly with you about your relationship and about this other person, because when you’re in the relationship you’re not thinking straight. You don’t see things objectively. And many of us here can say that from experience.
Guys, find a girl whom others can admire. Find a girl who’s admirable.
You find a woman like that, and you marry her, and she will be admired even more. She will be praised. That’s how this chapter ends. In fact, it’s how the book of Proverbs ends.
Look with me at verse 28. Again, we’re describing the excellent wife. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
Here’s what they say to her, verse 29. “Many women have done excellently, but your surpass them all.”
Guys, you want to be able to say that to your wife more and more. Find a woman who’s admired. Find someone in whom people can see the value.
Many of you know the words of First Samuel when David is chosen king, but it’s a broad principle. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. It’s what’s inside that counts the most.
Verse 30 says the same thing. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.
A woman can be a great hostess, but a lousy person. She can eve be a supermodel, but that doesn’t last forever. What is it that’s permanent? What is it that we’re supposed to be looking for?
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
That is the ultimate reason for her admiration. She’s not ultimately admired for her physical beauty. She’s not admired because she’s wealthy or has a good sense of business. She’s admired because she fears the Lord.
And it will be evident to many. Verse 31—Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
This woman doesn’t need to exalt herself. She doesn’t need to brag about all her accomplishments. The people know it already. She fears the Lord. She works as unto the Lord, and He has blessed her. And He has blessed her family.
We didn’t go through the entire alphabet like the Hebrew version does, but maybe you’ve noticed that our points today do have some connection. They start with the first four letters of the alphabet. ABCD. I just gave them to you in reverse order. That’s the kind of woman you want, men.
If you’re married already, and she’s a Christian, foster her in that direction. And if you’re not married yet, that’s what you’re looking for. ABCD. Find a girl who’s admired, a girl who’s blessed and a blessing, a girl who’s compassionate, and a girl who is diligent.
When you get married, guys, you are setting your life on a trajectory, a trajectory for yourself and for your whole family. Make it a good one.
Proverbs 12:4 says An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who shames him is like rottenness in his bones.
Proverbs 19:13 and 14 say that a foolish wife is like a constant dripping, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.
Proverbs 18:22 says He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.
God wants you to find an excellent wife. Your mom wants you to find an excellent wife. And so that’s what you should be looking for. For your sake, and for your mother’s sake, don’t make a foolish choice, guys. And don’t make that choice alone.
I know I’m not alone when I say that our prayer is that you guys find a wife that honors and fears the Lord. That would be an incredible blessing and an honor to your mother.