She perceives that her merchandise is good. Her lamp does not go out at night.
Welcome back! If you’re still reading along, I know these posts are long and cover lots of topics that can be broken down into smaller posts. After the whole series is done, there will be a break from blogging, and then I will more than likely start doing small pieces of posts from this series just for fun since there is so much here in each post. This wonderful verse gave me so much more to think of than I ever thought from a cursory reading it would reveal. My husband helped with the ideas and editing all over the second half of this post, which was so exciting to talk about in depth together, over many hours (this post was a major sacrifice!), and come to a conclusion about what is truth and what is false about how we approach women and ministry.
In case you’ve missed some of the posts in this series:
- The Best Gift You Can Give to Your Husband
- The Power & Difficulty of Becoming a Woman of Virtue
- Her Husband Can Safely Trust in Her
- His Wife is Over-flowing with Goodness
- His Wife Desires to do Good Work
- She is Like the Merchant Ships
- His Wife is a Beautiful Early Riser
- Her Beautiful Dreams Bless their Family
- The Virtuous Wife is Full of Strength & Power
She perceives that her merchandise is good –
Each verse has been so full of enchanting looks inside the mind and heart of the Proverbs 31 woman, and now we take time to examine her attitude towards her merchandise and ministry. How interesting it is that even in ancient biblical days, women like our virtuous archetype had their own small businesses! This series has been very motivating for me to seek out more ways to contribute financially to our household, even by simply being a lot more mindful about budgeting and planning more aggressively for the future. When we think of stay at home moms, our culture makes us almost immediately think they don’t contribute financially to the home. And maybe many don’t in conventional ways!
We seem to have a certain perceptive about stay at home moms, though, and one that isn’t really biblical or even historical. The biblical women like our archetype were stay at home mothers by default, but they didn’t let themselves get pigeon-holed into thinking they couldn’t also be extremely creative and industrious for their families at the same time! They not only raised sometimes large families, managed and performed most of the household chores and duties, I think many of them had little occupations that provided some side money. If they were smart and entrepreneurial like our Proverbs 31 woman we saw in Post 8, the profits they made could be used to make bigger investment ventures that would bless their families even more!
This verse, however, focuses on her side business, and not particularly her bigger dreams and investments like we covered in Post 8. First, let’s look closely at the words chosen at the beginning:
“She perceives that her merchandise is good.” The Hebrew word that most translators express as perceives, is “ta’am.” (1) It figuratively means to “taste,“ and experience in order to know or try something out. There is a little more implied here than merely just “perceiving” which can be defined as judging, considering, becoming aware of something usually by only the sense of sight.
This is the same word used in Pslam 34 verse 8,
“Taste and see that the Lord is good!”
“O taste and see that the Lord is good — That is, kind, merciful, and gracious, namely, to all his people. The goodness of God, here spoken of, includes both the amiableness and benevolence of his nature, and the bounty and beneficence of his providence and grace; and, in calling us to taste and see this, the psalmist means that we should seriously, thoroughly, and affectionately consider it, and make trial of it by our own experience; which is opposed to those slight and vanishing thoughts that men usually have of the divine goodness.
It is not sufficient that we find him to be a bountiful benefactor to us, but we must relish and take delight in his goodness manifested in and by his gifts, and in the contemplation of his infinite perfections and boundless love; and must be so convinced and persuaded of his goodness, as thereby to be encouraged, in the worst of times, to trust in him, and cast our care upon him.” (2)
Many verses across the Bible use this same word in reference to experiencing the Lord’s goodness, but one of the most beautiful to me, is found in 1 Peter 2:1-3.
“So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.“
What we experience intimately, we use to understand how to modify our work for the future. When we experience God’s kindness and goodness, it causes us to yearn deeply for more from Him, and for larger spiritual growth in ourselves. Our virtuous woman’s merchandise is first experienced by her, tested and tried even, so that she can be sure of what to change or modify – so that she can be sure it is actually good.
So what is exactly her merchandise that we are talking about here? In verse 24, we see that, “She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants.” We also know that she makes bedspreads in verse 22, and dresses herself in fine linens and purple gowns – clothing that she more than likely makes for herself.
We also saw her taking great care to pick out only the best raw materials for making her clothing merchandise in verse 13 (wow, it’s been a little over a month ago since that post!). An excerpt from that post:
” Another way to look at this verse, is to understand the implications behind her searching for wool and flax – she is selectively picking raw materials that are of quality to be used in the cloth or clothing she will make. She knows if she doesn’t pick out the best quality raw materials, her eventual product that she sells to the merchants (vs 24) or makes for her husband or children to wear (vs 21), will also lack quality. One of the major ways consumers judge a business, salesperson, or product, is by the quality of the product that is being sold. A poor quality product reflects badly on the reputation of a business selling that product, because it shows a lack of ethics (selling poorly made items) and virtue (taking pride in their work and what they produce). A good business is conscientious of this, and so takes the necessary measures to ensure the products they develop, sell, or represent are of good quality. This is a woman who cares about not only being busy and the benefit of working with her hands, but also the quality of the work she produces. “
She has confidence in the work she produces –
Because of all this, because of how keenly she picks out the raw materials for her merchandise, because she tastes and tests the items she makes, experiencing and knowing them first on herself, she is then able to confidently sell them to the merchants. She knows (from experience, from all that hard effort, from being selective, and from trying our herself) that her merchandise is good.
This is probably the hardest part of getting a small business started and up off the ground, is having the necessary confidence in what you’re doing so that you can be motivated enough to not only continue making product, but be aggressive in advertising it to consumers. It takes confidence based on validity to push us to actually start selling something. If one doesn’t have that necessary confidence in their work, they’ll never get their side business off the ground into giving them “profits.”
Elizabeth George has a wonderful insight she shares about this topic,
“Verse 18 is the spark that ignites the flame of a full-fledged business for the Proverbs 31 woman, for me, and perhaps for you, too. As we’ve seen, God’s beautiful woman does all things well, and she enjoys the success that results from attaining her standards of excellence. We’ve also seen her willingness to work hard and to save pennies by bartering and bargaining. Through thrift, hard work, and saying “no,” she builds a savings account that supplies her with the capital for some real estate ventures. Having taken care of her family and seeing that her home is well cared for, she now starts up her own little business.
How did her business begin? How did it come to be? The wise, royal mother who is teaching this alphabet of wisdom shows us and also offers us a formula for success – in a word, excellence! When you and I pursue excellence in all things (Proverbs 31:29), we can experience the kind of success enjoyed by God’s beautiful woman.” (3)
When we govern our duties, our chores, all the facets of being a wife and a mother, our health, even how we exercise, with excellence, it makes our lives so much better than before!
Employing a Spirit of Excellence is the application of wisdom into every area of our life, and of course, no one can manage this perfectly, but just like applying virtues, applying excellence in every area of our life comes slowly – but reaps tremendous rewards that make it easier to do over time.
Her lamp does not go out at night –
I light a candle in the morning when I do my devotional and Scripture reading and pray to God. I started it back in 2011 when I was going through the Bible with a deep intensity, and became convicted that it showed a certain sign of respect and submission to God, to offer of pleasing scent when I came before Him. It goes back to the ancient days when God gave instructions for an altar of incense that was burned in the Tent of Tabernacles, right outside veil of the Holy of Holies (the room where God’s spirit would dwell). Every day, incense was burned on the altar within the tabernacle, and all for God’s pleasure and honor. When I dwelt on this, I felt moved to offer Him a pleasing fragrance every morning out of love and devotion and thankfulness. For the Jewish people, incense was to be a symbol of prayer, as David says, “May my prayer be set before you like incense” (Psalm 141:2). Candles, with their light and fragrance, symbolize to me the most interesting combination of the Old and New Testament regarding our faith. We want to shine brightly as lights in this world, and give off the pleasing fragrance of our lives lifted up to God as a sacrifice themselves! As I sit here, writing in the early morning when it’s still dark, watching the candle burning, I’m mesmerized by the beauty and sheer power of it’s light.
We’ve looked at before the dangerous pitfalls of distorting this passage to take it too literally so that we can discredit it, and justify our thinking it has no meanings or applications for us as women today. I’ve seen many women use this particular verse of her lamp not going out at night, to try to say that she never sleeps! How can we compare with someone who is a Super Mom that works all day and also all night?
One of the most commonly accepted explanations of this verse, is that it could be applied to her diligent efforts to produce good product, as some biblical commentators have stated in their writings, but most concur that even if it does represent her dedication to her work, that it doesn’t mean she was literally or figuratively, burning the candle at both ends. Like we looked at in Post 7, in which we saw consistently living on extremely limited hours of sleep can lead to motivational burnout and physical deterioration.
Another application that is hinged back to verse 15 in Post 7, is that the way our virtuous woman keeps her lamp burning throughout the night, requires for her to rise while it is yet still night in order to replenish the oil to keep it from going out. It may be that women in that age literally would do this – get up in the middle of the night to replenish the oil in their oil lamps to make sure their lights would not go out prematurely, but how can we apply this to our modern life today? Or should we even try?
Even the biblical commentaries say not to take this literally to mean that she never slept, but the more interesting reason most accepted here has to do with something else completely, and is a broader principle that modern women can apply even today.
According to some of the most renowned biblical scholars, however, the possibilities of meanings here are mostly based on what we know historically of what women did back then. What was the main purpose for a woman to make sure that their lamp didn’t go out during the night? Why would it be important? One of the most widely accepted answers is that it signaled their household’s willingness to give aid and lodgings to travelers who had no where else to stay. It was a beautiful sign of hospitality, which we see is categorized as a kind of gift to be used in ministering to the body of Christ according to Paul.
Our virtuous Proverbs 31 woman more than likely employed her own ministry gift of hospitality by making sure her lamp did not go out at night. And this being concerned with strangers passing by, meeting their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs by offering them comfort, nourishment, and a place to stay for awhile is repeated throughout our Christian creed:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35
“Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” Romans 12:13
“Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that they may become co-workers with the truth.”
3 John 1-5
The Lamp signifying our spiritual life; our affecting and reaching others –
A simple and yet illuminating (pun intended!) cross-textual study of the word “lamp,” shows us that our virtuous woman’s lamp in Proverbs 31:18, is the same word and meaning used in the famous gospel passage of Matthew 5:14-16. Both Scriptures are talking about the same kind of lamp, even though one is in Hebrew and the other written originally in Greek, they are both mentioning a lamp that is lit with a wick in oil.
Let’s look at this widely known passage in a new light (yikes, the puns!), juxtaposed with what our virtuous woman is doing in verse 18.
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.
15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.
16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
From the NIV application commentary:
“Jesus’ disciples are called to be the light of the world.
They cannot be hidden, for their very nature, the kingdom life within them, is living testimony to those in the world who do not yet have that light.
Their good works are produced by the light and life that come from God. It is not of their own making, because those who see them in action will glorify not them but their “Father in heaven.” (4)
In Asbury’s comments on this passage, he even takes it further to say that we have a responsibility to be doing good works and ministering to others publicly, or else we will be like unbelievers and cast out from the presence of God:
“With blessings go responsibilities. Those in the kingdom have a responsibility to function as salt and light to the world.
The purpose of discipleship is to bring stability, wholeness, and the knowledge of God to all the earth through the performance of good works.
Those who reject this responsibility and cease to fulfill this purpose in their lives are by definition no longer true disciples and therefore will be cast out by God.” (5)
As we can see, the biblical scholars as well as Christ Himself, charge us with the responsibility of being a light in whatever fashion that may take concerning our different spiritual gifts. As women longing to be virtuous women who bless our families and husbands, I think most of us recognize this deep desire coming from our responsibility to be a light not only to our immediate family members, but anyone who crosses our path. It is important to acknowledge that this is talking about being a light to others publicly – yes this means ministering to others not only in private, but also where others can see our light shining from our good works. All are called to be ministers to others (to believers and unbelievers who need ministry), we just have different gifts of which we use to minister, but each is equally important. We are not to hide our lamps under a basket or shrink back from our purpose in using our different gifts. We are to shine brightly, and have our faith and gifts displayed in the open, as to be seen by everyone.
We talked about before how many scholars actually believe the Proverbs 31 woman is Wisdom personified in the Proverbs. In (Proverbs chapter 1) we find Wisdom calling out to anyone who will listen… we also see in Proverbs 15:7.
“The lips of the wise broadcast knowledge, but it is not so with the hearts of fools.”
Our virtuous woman is not a wall-flower, hanging back in intimidation, and declining when implored to give others wisdom and teaching biblical knowledge. She gives wisdom generously and humbly, but also confidently. Because she is wise, we see that “her lips broadcast knowledge,” implying it’s not only to those closest to her in private, but also to anyone willing to listen. This is fulfilling her purpose as a believer in God and as a light to those who need ministering to.
Because she is wise, she knows she has a duty to impart teachings to others.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God’s Word.” Hebrews 5:12
Women who choose to remain perpetual students without passing on their knowledge to others are rebuked by God’s Word, not commended. It is natural, proper and the duty of those who have learned the truth to teach others also in their own ways (different avenues, not one being “better” than the other), and ministries.
When Christians try to intimidate others into not using their gifts-
One of the saddest things I’ve seen in my life is the propensity for God-fearing men and women to go out of their way to discourage other believers from ministering to others. Whether it be discouragement from doing a simple Bible study, book study, getting a group together to go over tenants in one’s faith, or discouragement against a particular kind of ministry, this seems to be plain old human nature.
In the Old Testament, we see an example of this displayed in a strange conversation between Moses and Joshua over who should be allowed, or forbidden, to prophesy.
26 “Two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed behind in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but they had not gone out to the Tabernacle [to receive the specific blessing of the same Spirit that God gave to Moses to the 70 men chosen]. Yet the Spirit rested upon them as well, so they prophesied there in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”
28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ assistant since his youth, protested, “Moses, my master, make them stop!”
29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!” 30 Then Moses returned to the camp with the elders of Israel.”
We’re not told why Eldad and Medad did not go to the Tabernacle with the other men, but it was scandalous enough that when they exercised their gift of ministry to the people, a few were upset by it. A young man ran to tattle-tale on them to the spiritual authorities, but we see that Moses wasn’t bothered at all, and neither was God.
“Enviest thou for my sake?” — Art thou grieved because the gifts and graces of God’s Spirit are imparted to others besides me? Or rather, Art thou jealous for my sake? Art thou afraid that their exercising these prophetic gifts will be a diminution of my honour?
“Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets” — That they were all so inspired by his Spirit as to be enabled to speak to his praise, and to the edification of others! He saith prophets, not rulers, for that, he knew, could not be. Thus we see, though Joshua was Moses’s particular friend and confidant, and though he said this out of respect for Moses, whose honour he was very unwilling to see lessened by the call of those elders, yet Moses reproves him, as Christ did the disciples on the occasion just mentioned, and, in him, all who are of such a spirit.
“We must take care,” says Henry, “that we do not secretly grieve at the gifts, graces, or usefulness of others, and that we be not forward to condemn and silence those that differ from us, as if they did not follow Christ, because they do not follow him with us. Shall we reject those whom Christ has owned? or restrain any from doing good because they are not in every thing of our mind?
Moses was of another spirit; so far from silencing these two, and quenching the spirit in them, he wishes that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that he would put his Spirit upon them. Not that he would have had any to set up for prophets who were not duly qualified; or that he expected the spirit of prophecy to be made thus common; but he thus expresseth the love and esteem he had for all the Lord’s people, the complacency he took in the gifts of others, and how far he was from being displeased at Eldad and Medad’s prophesying from under his eye.
Such an excellent spirit as this blessed Paul was of; rejoicing that Christ was preached, though it were by those who therein intended to add affliction to his bonds, Php 1:16.
We ought to be pleased that God is served and glorified, and good done, though to the lessening of our credit and the credit of our way.” (2)
Moses directly asked Joshua if he was jealous for him over his pointless urging to forbid others from prophesying!
It’s very clear that the biblical scholars agree on this passage that this is a “spirit” or more modernly put: an attitude, that we as Christians just shouldn’t allow ourselves to entertain. Even if we feel strongly convicted ourselves to feel this way about another’s ministry, we should not be speaking out against them or their style. It’s not a godly attitude, and very far from being virtuous and Christ-like.
In fact, Jesus Himself had an extremely similar scenario of spiritual abuse of power (spiritual envy) with his own apostles in Mark 9:38-40,
“38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”
39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me.
40 Anyone who is not against us is for us.”
Ellicott’s Commentary on this passage is also quite interesting:
“The disciple desired to show, as in self-vindication, that he not only “received” his Master, but that he was unwilling to “receive” any who did not openly follow Him as a disciple.
The fact of which he speaks is significant historically as indicating that one of the effects of our Lord’s work had been to stir up and quicken the spiritual powers of men outside the range of the company of disciples that gathered round Him.
They believed in Him, or they would not have used His Name.
They were fellow-workers with Him, for they were seeking to rescue the souls of men from frenzy and despair.
Their faith was effective, for, as the narrative implies, they not only claimed the power to cast out demons, but did cast them out.” (6)
In both cases of Moses and Jesus dealing with another believer’s unbelief or unwillingness to accept God using someone in a certain way, we see three things that stand out:
- They believed in Him, using Jesus’ Name and power in their ministry to others
- They were fellow-workers with Him, having the same goal and purpose of rescuing souls
- Their faith was effective for ministry work
Why did the disciples try to stop someone who wasn’t in their group from driving out demons in Jesus’ Name? They were using Christ’s power, they also were doing a good ministry work (the scholar points out to us that not only were they trying to drive out demons, they actually were driving out demons). Why would they want to stop anyone from spreading Christ’s blessings and healing (ministering) to others?
Scholars point out that it was more than likely because they felt like they had received a special kind of authority ordained to them, and that since they had received their authority in that particular way, that everyone else who would be ministers of Christianity had to be ordained in that same way. It sadly is in human nature to want to dictate who God can use and who He can’t based on human rules we make up – often even loosely based on biblical texts. It’s also been pondered that it was because they felt like they were the only ones holy enough because they were in Jesus’ intimate group – the people in the “out group,” could then not be legitimate ministers.
“And we forbade him, because he followeth not us“
How often is the same temper found in us! How readily do we also lust to envy! But how ill does that spirit become a disciple, much more a minister, of the benevolent Jesus!
St. Paul had learned a better temper, when he rejoiced that Christ was preached, even by those who were his personal enemies. But to confine religion to them that follow us, is a narrowness of spirit which we should avoid and abhor.
“Jesus said,” … — Christ here gives us a lovely example of candour and moderation. He was willing to put the best construction on doubtful cases, and to treat as friends those who were not avowed enemies. Perhaps in this instance it was a means of conquering the remainder of prejudice, and perfecting what was wanting in the faith and obedience of these persons.
“Forbid him not” — Neither directly nor indirectly discourage or hinder any man, who brings sinners from the power of Satan to God, “because he followeth not us,” – in opinions, modes of worship, or any thing else which does not affect the essence of religion.
“For he that is not against us, is for us” — Our Lord had formerly said, He that is not with me, is against me: thereby admonishing his hearers that the war between him and Satan admitted of no neutrality, and that those who were indifferent to him now, would finally be treated as enemies. But here, in another view, he uses a very different proverb; directing his followers to judge of men’s characters in the most candid manner; and charitably to hope, that those who did not oppose his cause wished well to it.
Upon the whole, we are to be rigorous in judging ourselves, and candid in judging each other.” (2)
I love Jesus’ reaction, as well as Moses’, to this human desire to control other people and discourage their God-given gifts or abilities. This lesson teaches us that Jesus wants all people to be ministers for Him if they have that desire to do so, that it’s not just for a few or for some ones who feel really special and ordained, but can be for anyone who simply steps out in faith and uses the gifts He’s given to them. He also teaches us here that we should have compassion for the self-righteous who speak out against the ministries of people they think don’t fit biblical requirements, because they haven’t yet reached full spiritual maturity and wisdom, or they would know better the meanings of these texts in the Old and New Testament. God never changes, and this is a clear example of that in His diffusing spiritual abuse through discouragement of other believers.
Joshua was an amazingly good, fiercely committed godly man, and yet even he was bothered when seeing others use their gifts of prophesy when specific authority from leadership hadn’t been given to them to do so!
With the passage we looked at in Mark, it was John – the disciple that had arguably the closest relationship with Jesus, as he was one of the three closest disciples to Him – the one that described himself as “loved” – was the person doing the questioning here! Even he had felt strongly convicted and moved enough to directly “forbid” the other man from ministering to others in the way that they did.
This is a very strange topic to me, in fact, this whole series has been quite frankly a very strange and unexpected journey. Here I was thinking we were focusing on qualities to teach our sons (and any future daughters) what virtuous women look like, and we’ve found that these Scriptures can have such deeper meanings when corresponded to their same usage across the Bible. I have to say, I’m not entirely sure why human nature, even spiritual nature, seems to drive us to this practice of trying to decide (against God’s own desire or will for us to do so) “who,“ should minister and who should be “forbidden,” or rejected as illegitimate. Apart from clear biblical guidelines of elders in the church and pastors, it seems to be human nature to nit-pick and go about indirectly or directly discouraging regular Christian brothers and sisters who live their lives ministering openly to others in smaller ways and roles in the body of Christ.
But since this has occurred before, it should not be strange to us that there are those who try to get others to hide the lights of their souls on fire for God under a basket. It happened in the Old Testament in Moses’ time, and it happened in the New Testament in Jesus’ time. In both situations, the same self-righteous indignation over God’s generosity was displayed.
What happens when Christians succeed in snuffing out others’ Lamps?
What if Joshua’s desires had been granted? What if he had succeeded in convincing Moses to stop the prophesying of others in their camp just because it bothered him to see them use their spiritual gifts?
What if the disciples were successful in getting other people who weren’t part of their elite group accepted by Jesus to stop ministering to others? Or even worse, what if His disciples were successful in convincing the other man (or other people) that they had no power or authority to minister to others? Whose work would they be accomplishing and doing if they discouraged others into silence who are ministering in Jesus’ Name?
I think we all know this answer… they would be winning a major victory for Satan (not for God) when they convince someone they don’t see as “appropriate” to not continue their ministry or using their gifts for the Lord. According to Benson’s commentary, even if we indirectly discourage other people from ministering we are participating in something wrong and unholy – we are giving in to an attitude he tells us we should “avoid” and even “abhor!”
The purpose of these people’s criticisms was inherently evil, even if they had “good intentions” and were very good, strong Christians.
If they had succeeded, it would have actually been a serious form of spiritual abuse of their God-given authority or influence. Which is why in both times, we saw that God didn’t allow their man-made rules or preferences to be imposed on other believers.
What if our Proverbs 31 woman was described as telling other women in her neighborhoods to snuff out their own lamps so that only hers could signify a ministry in their neighborhood? What if she went around as a busybody, criticizing and ridiculing any woman and their ministry it personally bothered her? Or because they did things differently from her due to their given gifts? Or worse, what if she gave up her ministry herself for whatever reason, and then made it her personal hobby to go around criticizing any other women who was doing what she used to do? Of course it isn’t mentioned that way in Proverbs 31, because to be virtuous is to not spend our time doing unproductive activities that grieve God such as that. We are called to overcome any kind of jealousy or desire to control others’ ministries and what they are personally doing for God, and even refrain from criticizing them in a way to discourage them.
Satan will use anything or anyone to accomplish his own will in the world, it’s nothing against those he uses, they may just be weak in faith (in that area) or not spiritually wise about this topic as of yet. And yes, we’ve seen before (many times) in the Bible, as well as all throughout the Church’s history, that Satan has definitely been able to use Christians to accomplish things that breakdown the unity of the body, instead of build it up. One of his most used tactics is through Christians discouraging other Christians through ridicule or criticism, or in flat out “biblical” forbidding like in the examples we’ve also seen. It’s nothing personal against those Christians, we know that we have a greater Enemy as we looked at in the last post about spiritual warfare. Our enemies are not people (flesh) but the rulers and authorities and powers of Satan’s world (Ephesians 6). Let’s separate the people in these examples from their actions and beliefs for a moment (because it really has nothing to do with them as people), and dig into this.
It was an evil purpose that was trying to prevail here – because it was to make other children of God, gifted with the Holy Spirit and bold enough to step out in faith, to snuff out their lamp (lose their brightness or even shipwreck their faith), or hide their brightness under a basket (become “Secret Christians”) so that no one (especially those condemning or criticizing them) can see it. It was designed to make other godly believers intimidated into being rendered ineffective and no longer fulfilling their purpose by ministering to others because of human misunderstanding of God’s Higher Ways.
Something we need to understand about God, is that Jesus didn’t come to save us so that we can live easy lives of convenience and comfort – never stepping out of our comfort zone and never using the gifts He’s given to us. He didn’t come to save us so that we could hide our lamps under baskets or be intimidated by what others think so that we give up ministering to others altogether. He saved us so that we could live on earth in power, being like a city on a hill, shining brightly in His authority, in victory, and prevailing over spiritual opposition.
He didn’t save us so that we could live a pitiful life doing nothing for God, hiding our lamp afraid someone may make fun of us or criticize us, we are called to live with our lamps shining brightly for all to see, even into martyrdom if God so calls us. We’re called to be up high on a hill, to place ourselves on a lampstand to give light to all who are in our sphere of influence.
Her Lamp does not go out at night –
Our virtuous woman does not let her lamp, her ministry of hospitality to others who pass by her house, go out. She is not affected any forms of intimidation, ridicule or criticism, because she has confidence in her ministry – a confidence that comes from standing firmly on the promises of God.
This is a hot-topic for sure, and one that has caused major dissensions even recently. Should women be out there encouraging others, using the Bible to teach others biblical truths and applications for their household and life? Should women be discouraged from or criticized for having blogs where they run a ministry to reach out to other women in Jesus’ Name, offering teachings and even spiritual healing? There is no other way to understand the Scriptures we’ve looked at, than to admit that if a Christian woman is following Christ and growing in maturity, that she takes care to not let her lamp be hidden in fear or intimidation, or go out, giving up her purpose as a fellow believer (Matthew 5, Proverbs 31:18). We saw from looking at Hebrews, that if she takes her faith seriously, she has a duty to no longer be only a student when she should be a teacher because of the wisdom she’s accrued over the years of experience and study.
Age here, is not a factor, as we know that Paul encouraged Timothy to act as though to be respected, even though he was considered extremely young to be teaching in authority over men far older than him.
“Do not to let anyone look down upon you because of your young age, but instead to be an example to the believers in speech, in love, in conduct, in faith, and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
According to one commentator,
“Timothy is not to permit the authority entrusted to him as representative of the apostle, to be limited on account of his youth: “permit no one to despise thy youth.” (7)
Even if a young woman desires to be virtuous, she puts her lamp up on a table to give light to all those she entertains, or even like the Proverbs 31 woman is doing for strangers passing by – she puts a light shining brightly in a window for all to see that there is a ministry there for them if they need it. The lamp represents her Christian life, her Christian witness, and yes, her Christian ministry (outreach/effectiveness/healing/nourishment/teaching) to others! We are not truly living effective Christian lives if we aren’t actively living in a way that shines forth our faith in order to minister to a fallen world. We aren’t living in Christ’s power and victory if we are intimidated into silence because some have unbiblical regulations set up that we don’t yet meet.
I’ve seen recently some very strange man-made regulations loosely based upon Paul’s admonitions to elderly women of the church, going around in order to discourage other believers. Some Christians are declaring that women should not be teaching other women biblical truths or sharing passages, or “setting themselves up as teachers to other women,” if they aren’t at least 60 years old, grandmothers, and post-menopausal. Like the disciples who forbid the man to minister in Jesus’ Name, these Christians are going out of their way to point out all the women who do not fall into this very narrow-minded and unbiblical category, particularly speaking out and discouraging indirectly and directly, Christian female bloggers. Their goal is to discourage them from ministering to other women, discrediting their teaching about marriage and God’s plan for them as wives and mothers, to say they have no right to minister in Jesus’ Name, to say they haven’t been “ordained” in the same way as pastors are, that they have no authority, because to them, these women are not legitimate.
The problem with this that we’ve seen is that God often does not care about what offends spiritual leaders and authorities in circumstances like this. Like Moses’ attitude, or Jesus’ when confronted with his disciples’ disgust, He is more than generous, He knows intimately the gifts He gives to other believers, and He is more than accepting of lay persons using their God-given gifts to minister to others in His Name. The church has a long and extremely intricate history of women used in ministering in different ways to God’s people. Even going back to Paul’s time, there was a woman he referred to as a fellow “disciple,” in Acts 9:36,
“Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, (which, translated, means Dorcas). She was full of good works and acts of charity.”
In Acts 18:24-26, there was also Priscilla listed with her husband Aquilla, who were called fellow laborers by Paul. Together they heard Apollos preaching and pulled him aside afterward to better explain spiritual meanings of God’s Word. Their correction of him could have been seen as scandalous perhaps – it was the only time where we see that a woman was directly involved in biblically correctly another male who happened to be an elder and preacher himself. Their correction of him allowed him to go on to greater success in preaching the gospel and winning more Jews to Christ!
In more recent history, we have historical figures that became themselves, or raised children to become, Saints in the Catholic and Greek Orthodox church. The faith of these great women, their teachings and explaining of Scriptures literally changed and molded Church history! This is not at all meant to diminish the huge and monumental efforts and success of men in the Church, but only to point out to those who make it their business to discourage and discredit women’s influence and ministry opportunities, that they are going against God’s will in this, and entertaining an attitude that is not of God but of Satan. Like we looked at previously, when carried out to full fruition, this position only ends in spiritual abuse of power and authority (which is why Moses and Jesus didn’t allow it under their authority). There are many saints, many mothers and wives of preachers who raised up strong and virtuous families, and who blessed us with writings and teachings of their own that our daughters (and us!) can still learn from today, and thank the Lord for them!
Who wins when a woman is hiding her lamp under a basket, withholding her ministry and gifts God’s given her? Satan, who hates us and hates our lamps and our ministries. He would much prefer that our lights are snuffed out in hopelessness (giving up a calling or ministry we previously felt as I’ve already witnessed some women have done), but if he can’t have that, then he’ll do with us still being faithful Christians, but hiding our lamps under baskets so that we’re ineffective in ministering to others by our light!
Interesting/cited articles –
- Hebrew Lexicon
- Benson Commentary
- Becoming Beautiful in God’s Eyes, by Elizabeth George, 1998.
- NIV Application Commentary
- Asbury Commentary
- Ellicott’s Commentary
- Meyer’s New Testament Commentary
- Article on Spiritual Gifts (regarding even spiritual abuse, using gifts in pride, or projecting our gifts onto others as to cause false guilt).
*Articles discouraging Christian women from ministry, teaching other women, teaching on marriage, or even blogging at all –
- Women Teaching Women in Church
- On Christian Female Bloggers I: Who Should They Be?
- On Christian Female Bloggers II: The Gold Standard of Reverent
- For Clarity’s Sake
- When Lures Look like Minnows
Applications for wives –
Phew! Another long and complex look at yet another verse in this passage. I gleaned so much from this verse myself personally, from dwelling on her confidence in her work, to her confidence in her lamp not going out, it was wonderful to again look at this passage in light of the whole Bible. As you’re thinking about applications for areas to develop your creativity or gifts into small business ideas, look for information on how to develop an expertise in the area you want to develop. We saw that her business is successful because not only does she put in the necessary hard work, she employs a specific spirit of Excellence into everything she does! This is so important for how we as women live in every area of our lives, but especially if we want to create merchandise that we are confident in. In any area of our lives, it just takes small steps of making consistent good choices, and daily showing up to face the grind in order to develop a spirit of excellence.
Another thing we looked at was her confidence in her ministry to others. What a beautiful picture of her light, as talked about in Matthew 5, ever burning and not being hidden under a basket or snuffed out. We are all called to study God’s Word and to take that knowledge and be lights in our sphere of influence wherever God has called us. **We also all have the call to witness and to minister to the body using our gifts, and for some women gifted with the ability to teach, I believe they are called to teach God’s Word to other women in order to accomplish God’s goals of building up His people with spiritual nourishment.
We also talked about the propensity for even solid Christians to be nit-picky about “who” should be accepted or rejected, even if they are ministering to others in Jesus’ Name through using their different gifts. Let’s not be women who see another’s ministry and get offended or envious over how God may be using them compared to how He may be using us. We all have different gifts and callings – someone may be called to minister only in person to other people, whereas another may be ministering through a blog online, it is not for us to be so forward as to even indirectly criticize the way another person is ministering as long as it is not a false teaching. And let’s not give in to acting like Joshua or the disciples when we get offended by someone we don’t agree completely with ministering to others and be bold enough to discourage them. I think we need to be prepared that there may be times when we have these feelings come up regarding God using someone we may not like or agree with, and we need to be knowledgeable of what God thinks about that kind of attitude. Paul had the right heart-attitude when he was able to rejoice even when his enemies were preaching in a way to cause him more pain during his last days and imprisonment. He was rejoicing because the good news and spiritual knowledge was still getting put out there, no matter who it came from (or their motives). This is what we as believers need to emulate in how we deal with fellow workers in Christ, male or female.
Applications for sons –
This verse being only focused on our virtuous woman’s work and ministry, at first seems to have little to do with what our sons can learn from it for themselves. But as far as what to look for in a future wife, a young woman who, like we saw before, values hard work, has a good work ethic either at a workplace or in school, and exhibits a spirit of excellence in the things she does is extremely valuable!
Also, a young woman who studies her Bible, not with the motivation to teach or witness as of yet, but to really learn for herself about God and her faith is such a treasure for him to search for! We want to teach our sons how important it is to find a woman who truly values God’s Word, and has the humility to be challenged on passages she doesn’t yet understand or may be understanding wrong. We will need to teach our sons to look for a woman who has a teachable spirit – one who searches out the information with open hands expecting and hoping to learn something new, and not coming to it with the attitude of expecting to already know everything.
Applications for daughters –
We’ve already looked at the application of work and developing a healthy work ethic for our daughters, let’s now look instead at encouraging a spirit of Excellence in her! Firstly, it’s best to have her learn this by example from her mother first modeling the spirit of excellence in everything she does. This of course doesn’t mean that she is perfect, but that she takes care to do the things that matter in an excellent way. We’ll all fail at this constantly at some point, if it’s a particularly busy season or we’re sick or our kids are sick, it will be impossible to do everything “with excellence.” This is more of a virtue that is applied and taught with specific tasks or goals or even projects to accomplish. Does your daughter need to clean her room? Take the necessary time to teach her how to organize and how to set it up (or set it up for her if she’s young) so that she’s set to succeed and not fail. Teach her to take time every day to put everything away either after she’s done playing with it, or at the end of the day to do a quick clean up. A spirit of excellence applies to her homework as well – anything that can be eventually attributed to her work ethic. All this is applicable also to sons!
Teaching our daughters about their incredible ability to be lamps in this world is a beautiful and incredible task! How do we give her the necessary confidence to stand firm in her faith, shining brightly and optimistically, even against many who will come that will try to get her to snuff out her lamp or intimidate her enough to hide it under a basket? I believe the only way to give her enough confidence is to help her in studying the Bible, have family time where she studies under the authority of her father, and always be open to answering her questions so that she can grow exponentially in spiritual maturity. Another thing mothers can do is regularly pray for our daughters to know and understand their God-given gifts and ministries, pray for them to have discernment and wisdom.
Another thing I believe is absolutely critical for daughters regarding gifts and ministry is the warning against female pastors or women teachers who would desire to usurp the authority of men. It is important for her to intimately know and be able to recognize the flavor of the difference between women like that, and say Elisabeth Elliot who herself took great care and effort to make sure she was never usurping a man’s authority when she spoke and taught. We need to teach our daughters that not having that authority is a blessing and gift, and not at all oppression. We are designed as women to have an influence in a much different way, usually through raising up godly children and leaving a legacy (that we talked extensively about in Post 9) – this is the specific way that women “redeem” society and in which we have dominion or influence over.
It is also critical to teach our daughters how to recognize false teachings that have a bent of spiritual abuse of power to control or intimidate others from using their gifts. Anytime a person is setting up unbiblical and strange guidelines like: a woman can only blog or teach or minister to other women if she’s 60+, a grandmother, a blood-relative, or post-menopausal for Titus 2 teachings to “work,” she needs to be aware that it is anti-biblical and adding to God’s Word, regulations that were never intended to be there. The only way that she will be able to know this, is if she is well equipped with knowledge of Scripture and spiritually mature. Elisabeth Elliot was about age 37 when she first started her official speaking and teaching ministry to other women, and she had been using her gifts long before that when living with the Indian tribes during her 20’s and ministering to the women there. Elizabeth Prentiss, born in 1818, was a daughter of a revival preacher and had a great spiritual maturity at a young age. She started writing on spiritual matters when she was only a teenager, and to a large audience because even at this young age, her writings were published in a weekly religious newsletter. Her writings and books have been recommended by Elisabeth Elliot, and have ministered to Christian women consistently for almost 200 years! When she was only 20 years old, she was bold enough for Christ to open up a small girl’s school in her home, and taught Sunday school classes. Can you imagine how much the world would have missed out if Elizabeth had been discouraged from teaching or writing publicly just because she was so young? What if she had been told as a teenager that she had nothing mature enough to say to others? Would she have then had the confidence to write for a published newletter while in her teens? Would she have ever had the confidence to open her home to girls at only the age of 20 to teach them from God’s Word? Would she have had the confidence to go on to write books that minister still to women today and are beacons of hope against the lies of feminism?
Teach your daughter to not let her age be a limiting factor in however God decides to use her, and teach her to avoid listening to religious people who set up restrictions designed to discourage her from using her gifts until she is 60 years old.
**I am not condoning women “pastors” or elders, or any women’s teaching that is usurping authority over a man or church flock. I believe female pastors are dangerous because they psychologically emasculate a man in his role of leading, not only in church, but also in his own home with his wife. Female Pastors that lead both men and women in a flock or community, are a world of difference away from female teachers who only write and speak to women as a ministry. Can men listen to women’s teachings at times? We believe so, as long as he isn’t using it consistently for his own spiritual growth, and relying on her teaching like he would a leader and Pastor. A man may want to check out a woman’s teachings to make sure that what she is teaching is correct and on point, or to know if he would advise his wife or daughter to learn from her.