Women need more than Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 (Jessalyn Hutto)
The Word of God is filled with commands and calls to holy living. The weight of such commands would be crushing if not for the glorious news of the gospel which frees us from being judged for our failings and instead accepted by our holy God on the basis of Christ’s perfect life. Rightly understood, the commands of Scripture are not burdensome to the children of God, but rather a delight, as we work out the salvation entrusted to us. This is because the believer does not see the commands in isolation from the gospel, but rather the truths of the gospel inform our understanding of the commands and empower us to obey them.
This is not to say that living in light of the gospel is always an easy endeavor. We often slip into seasons of living out our Christian lives with a works-based mentality. We tend to sever the gospel message from our efforts to obey and soon find ourselves enslaved to feelings of guilt and shame when we fail to live up to the high standards of the Word of God. For this reason it is vitally important for us as Christians to daily remind ourselves of the gracious nature of the God who is daily transforming us into the image of our Savior.
The gospel at the center
It has been my experience that women especially can find it hard to keep the gospel at the center of their daily pursuit of holiness. Why would I say this? Because there seems to be a disproportional emphasis within women’s ministries, retreats, conferences, the blogosphere, and friendships focusing on biblical texts that are specifically applicable to the female sex but lacking in proper biblical context. We go to women’s retreats expounding on the different virtues of the Proverbs 31 Woman without ever hearing the gospel from where those virtues spring. We engage in Titus 2 relationships, mentoring each other in the practical outworkings of our faith without ever reminding one another of the life-giving truths of the gospel it’s all rooted in. We find accountability partners who will help us focus on the lists of things we need to change about ourselves rather than on the One who has promised to change us.
As a result, our lives can often feel like a vicious cycle of striving to be the perfect wife and mother, failing to be the perfect wife and mother, and then being overcome by guilt because of our inability to be the perfect wife and mother. We have not been taught these important passages of Scripture – which are meant for our edification – within the broader context of Scripture, and we rarely see them coupled with the good news of the gospel.
Obviously, two of the most popular sections of Scripture for women in the church are Proverbs 31 and Titus 2. How could we not be drawn to these incredible descriptions of godliness that were inspired by such a gracious and loving God? They are infinitely worthy of study and emulation! Indeed Titus 2 is written in the form of commandments for women – a specific guide for godly living within the family framework. We must never overlook them, but we also must not forget the truths of the gospel that surround and inform them. Though women will benefit from a thorough exposition of these passages, an exposition that neglects the gospel message is anything but thorough – it is debilitating.
The Proverbs 31 Woman is given to us within the broader context of wise living, which of course is given within the context of the one true source of wisdom: our God. Most often we take this chapter of the Bible, break down the different strengths of this woman’s character, and immediately seek to emulate her without even contemplating where this wisdom she possesses comes from or how we are supposed to muster it up ourselves. We see her as a check list rather than a road sign pointing to the gracious nature of our God.
When seeking to apply Proverbs 31 to our own lives we must be careful to remember that our God is the source of all wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 2:6) – even the wisdom necessary for running a household. Indeed, the virtues possessed by the Proverbs 31 woman are a direct result of the grace of God in her life. If we do not make this connection we will seek to bear the same fruit she is praised for, without drawing from the same wellspring of nourishment she does: our wisdom-imparting God. In fact, we are told in the New Testament that it is Christ our savior who is the source of all spiritual wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). It is he – the one who shed his blood for our forgiveness and justification – who also provides the necessary wisdom for honoring him in our daily lives.
The same theme of relying upon the grace of the Lord for growth in godliness is found in Titus 2. Here we are told that younger women are to love their husbands and children, be kind, submissive to their husbands, self-controlled, workers at home and pure so that the Word of God will not be reviled among unbelievers. What a pervasive list of commands! What an impossible standard! And yet, we are told just a few sentences later that it is the grace of God that trains us for the task, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to deny our own sinful impulses and instead do what pleases the Lord:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14, ESV)
The daunting list of commands in Titus 2 is not burdensome when we realize that we are not meant to obey them in our own strength and wisdom: the Spirit himself will help us to obey. We who could once do nothing but sin and dishonor the Lord are now being transformed into the image of the Son of God by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we are now able to pursue righteousness through his power.
This is the message that all Christians must be careful to preach to themselves on a daily basis. We cannot sever the truth of the gospel from our effort to obey the Lord’s commands without also severing ourselves from the very power that enables us to obey. We women, need to be reminded that there is no hope of living a life of wisdom like the Proverb’s 31 Woman or bringing honor to the Word of God like the Titus 2 Woman apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, whose presence and power we have been promised through the saving work of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jessalyn Hutto is just an ordinary wife and mother who serves an extraordinary God. Her passion for theology led her to create the blog DesiringVirtue which encourages women to study, treasure, and apply the Word of God to their daily lives. She is blessed to be the wife of Richard Hutto and the mother of three little boys: Elliot, Hudson, and Owen. She is also a regular contributor to The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s women’s channel: Karis.