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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Psalm 147:1,4,6
Hymn 47:6-8 (after the law)
Hymn 5:1-4 (after offertory)
Reading: Proverbs 31:10-31
Text: Proverbs 31:30
Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,
Maybe you’ve seen the ads that recently came out: “Not every suicide note looks like a suicide note.” The ads come from an organization promoting awareness about eating disorders in Canada. Eating disorders are prevalent and deadly, especially among young girls and women. By eating disorders we mean things like excessive exercise and deliberately starving yourself – known as anorexia; and binging and purging – known as bulimia; and various combinations of the two, plus other problems over top.
Why are eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia so prevalent? Well, consider some statistics. 80-90% of women dislike the shape of their bodies. An American study showed that young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than getting cancer or losing their parents. 70% of women are constantly dieting. Nearly 50% of Canadian 15 year old girls surveyed said they need to lose weight. Is it any wonder that many turn to the radical extreme of an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia?
We’d like to think that this doesn’t happen in the church, or that if it does it’s very rare. We’d like to think that we are not like the world and its obsession with outward appearances. But we would be deceiving ourselves. The reality is that eating disorders also exist among us, more than we care to admit. And even where people don’t go to that extreme, there is often an unhealthy obsession with how we look. Sometimes, because we’re like the dying frog in the slowly boiling pot of water, we haven’t realized that we’ve adopted the world’s thinking.
This morning the Word of God challenges us to evaluate our ways of thinking about such things, to rethink our priorities in life. The book of Proverbs is all about daily, practical things. It’s about how to steer clear of foolishness and walk the path of wisdom, wisdom that comes from God. We’ll see how in Proverbs 31, God gives special attention to the shape of a woman, showing how a godly woman is shaped by wisdom. We’ll consider what matters for nothing and what matters for everything.
Proverbs 31 is well-known for its description of the virtuous wife, or “the wife of noble character” as the NIV puts it. If you look at the bottom of the page where this passage begins you’ll find a note indicating that verses 10-31 are written as an acrostic poem. That means that each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It would be like writing a poem in English and the first verse begins with the letter “A” and the second with “B” and so on. Proverbs 31:10-31 is not the only passage in the Bible written like this. And the reason why some important passages were written as acrostics was because they functioned as teaching tools, and the acrostic would help people to memorize them.
Throughout the history of the church, this passage has been a textbook especially for two groups of people. Others can learn from it too, but there’s always been an understanding that this passage is directed to young men and young women. It’s directed to the young women who have their life before them. It shows them what a woman shaped by wisdom looks like – it gives them an ideal to strive for. It’s also been understood as a textbook for young men who are looking for suitable marriage partners. You want to know what to look for in a wife? Proverbs 31 is a great place to begin.
The wife of noble character has the full confidence of her husband. She always brings good to him and the family. She’s a hard working woman. She’s generous towards the needy. She cares for her household. Partly because of her character, her husband receives respect. She has strength and dignity, she speaks wisely. Her children admire her and praise her and so does her husband.
Then we come to verse 30 and this is a sort of summary of everything that this wisdom-shaped woman is all about. “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” It begins by telling us what matters nothing for this woman.
“Charm is deceptive” – First off, what is “charm”? This refers to what is elegant and stylish in the eyes of human beings. You might say that it’s about what is fashionable and chic. This is something that people are easily impressed with, something to which most people easily give a favourable response. It’s not necessarily limited to the physical realm – it can also refer to the way a woman conducts herself.
God’s Word tells us that “charm is deceptive.” In other words, all that fashionable and elegant stuff, all the stuff that impresses people easily, that stuff lies. It doesn’t tell the truth about what a woman is really like. It’s all about a façade and giving the impression of something valuable that isn’t really. Charm is about creating a counterfeit, charm is about getting a cubic zirconia when you were expecting a diamond; to say it differently: “she ain’t pretty, she just looks that way.”
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting…” – Beauty is exactly what it sounds like: outward physical beauty. This is the beauty that the world admires and exalts, lifting up as a goal for all to measure up to.
God’s Word tells us that “beauty is fleeting.” The same word is used there as in Ecclesiastes one page over, “’Meaningless, meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Meaningless, vanity, nothingness, perishablenesss, vanity – those are all ways that this word can be translated. Sometimes that word is even used as a synonym for idols. Outward beauty means nothing, it is vain, it is meaningless, it can become an idol. Not only that, but it is, as our Bible translation puts it, fleeting. Despite one’s best botox efforts, beauty eventually passes away with the advancing years. Or one’s physical beauty can disappear in an instant. A fire, a car accident, an illness, a chemical burn – all of those things and more can snatch beauty away in a heart beat. Putting all your eggs in the beauty basket is foolish. In all the things that really matter in this world, beauty counts for exactly zero.
In this passage, Scripture reveals to us the falsehood and the futility of the quest for physical beauty. Our culture esteems perfect form and beauty and pursues it with religious fervour, yet God exposes this pursuit as being foolish. Nowhere, absolutely nowhere in the Bible are women instructed to wish for, ask for, or strive for physical beauty. But then someone might say, “But pastor, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we’re supposed to take care of them.” Yes, the Bible does say that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Yes, we do have to take care of them through healthy living, eating in moderation and getting enough exercise. Bodily exercise is of some value, as the apostle Paul says. However, when our lives revolve around diet, exercise and physical appearance are we really being motivated by spiritual truths or is that just a rationalization to help us look good in church and on the beach? You see, what this passage addresses is obsession, going to extremes, having your life revolve around the external things that will some day disappear and which, in the big picture, matter for nothing. The fact is that the world is obsessed with these things and goes to extremes, sometimes we follow and then add a spiritual veneer to validate what we’re doing. We’re experts at rationalizations and those rationalizations need to be exposed because sin, like fungus, grows best in the dark.
Loved ones, some of us are undoubtedly feeling the pinch of this passage. It exposes what lives in our hearts and uncovers the idols that we’ve created. This text is pulling back the covers on our foolishness and we don’t like what we see. And this is where God wants to lead us. He wants to lead us to humility, to a recognition of our failures and our foolishness. Because ultimately he wants us again to turn to Christ our Saviour.
Jesus Christ redeems us from our foolishness, also from our foolish trust in charm and our foolish belief that outward beauty matters to any significant degree. Your Saviour Jesus was not beguiled by charm, nor did he fall for the vanity of physical beauty. Isaiah 53:2 tells us that “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” He had no physical beauty, nor did he work on changing that. He knew what outward appearances counted for. In this respect, he lived a perfect and wise life for us and in our place. In his suffering and death, he paid the penalty for all our foolishness, for all our failure to see what matters for absolutely nothing in the big picture.
In 1 Corinthians 1:30, the apostle Paul tells us that God made Jesus Christ to be our wisdom. He did that by having him atone for all our foolishness and living a perfectly wise life in our place. He goes further, because Jesus Christ is also our wisdom through his Spirit who now lives in us. The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ in faith and so that perfect wisdom of Jesus Christ is more and more seen in our lives too.
For you young women in the congregation, look to Jesus Christ your Saviour and fix your eyes on him in faith. Recognize and believe that in him you are perfect and beautiful. So that your true beauty is shown to everybody, pray and ask for his wisdom in your life. His wisdom is seen here in Proverbs 31. Realize that what the world says matters for everything, actually matters for nothing. The world puts almost all the emphasis on outward appearances – the Lord Jesus says it’s all fleeting, it’s all insignificant. The world puts a lot of stock in being stylish, wearing the latest clothes, and so forth – the Lord Jesus, the one who is the Truth, he says that this is all a bunch of lies. Don’t fall for it! Instead, work on the beauty described in 1 Peter 3. God says that the beauty of godly women is on the inside, “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
And for those of us who are parents, it can’t be emphasized enough how important it is for you to model all this for your daughters. If you moms are constantly talking about your weight and your appearance, if you constantly make it clear that how you look is a huge priority, you’re missing the point of this passage. You’re telling your daughters that God lies in Proverbs 31:30 and the world tells the truth. If you dads are constantly making comments about how women look, telling your wife and daughters that they better be careful because they’re getting fat, you’re missing the point of our text too. You’re telling your daughters that Proverbs 31:30 has it all wrong: Charm tells the truth and outward beauty is everything. You’re saying that the Word of God is false. Loved ones, if there is a need for it, repent and look to your Lord Jesus Christ in faith and let the fruit of that be a trust in his Word, a trust which is reflected in how we live and speak in our families.
And for the young men in our church, you also have to be looking to Christ in faith and having that shape the pursuit of a marriage partner. You don’t want a wife who places all her stock in charm and outward beauty. You don’t want a wife who believes the lies of the world when it comes to appearances, who runs after those things like the world does. Because you are of Christ, you realize that all those sorts of things, they matter for absolutely zero in the scheme of things. Sure, you’re going to marry someone that you’re attracted to, some one that you find beautiful. That’s only natural. But that’s not going to be anywhere your highest priority as you look for a marriage partner. For a marriage to go the distance, you need to have a lot more. And that “more” is found in the next part of our text as we consider the things that really matter.
With this passage, God not only wants us to see foolishness, he also wants to lead us to wisdom. That’s what we find when we read, “But a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” The book of Proverbs begins by telling us that it’s all about wisdom. And then it says in verse 7 of chapter 1, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” In this verse, wisdom is interchangeable with knowledge. You could also say, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” and we find it said exactly that way in Proverbs 9:10 and Psalm 111:10. To be wise, also when it comes to what really matters for a godly woman, you have to begin with the fear of the LORD.
What does that really mean to fear the LORD, or to fear Yahweh? (LORD here is in all capital letters, so that points to God’s personal covenant name, “Yahweh”). To fear God is to understand who he is, that he is holy, exalted and majestic. To fear God is not only to know things about him, but also to respect him and stand in awe of him. To fear Yahweh is to trust him and believe what he says, to follow him. In short, the fear of Yahweh has a lot to do with faith. Those who have faith in Yahweh, they’re the ones who fear him – and vice-versa.
For us today, that still means all those things. But the coming of Christ makes it mean even more. For us, fearing Yahweh, still includes recognizing God’s holiness and transcendence. In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah came face to face with the glory of the Holy God. In that powerful passage, he became filled with fear at the sight of the Lord seated on his throne. In John’s gospel, in John 12:41, we’re told that Isaiah saw the Lord Jesus. For us, fearing God includes a proper attitude of faith and respect towards our Lord Jesus Christ. We look to him for everything, we look to him for our salvation and for our wisdom in every day living.
According to Proverbs 31, the woman who fears Yahweh is to be praised. She recognizes the root and source of true wisdom. She knows what really matters is self-consciously living life, not before people, but before God. She doesn’t live her life in fear of people, but in fear of God. The woman described here is a woman of faith, who looks to God and his promises, realizing that it is only through him and in him that she is significant. What matters for everything is the fear of God. The woman who has that will be admired and looked up to, she will be praised by her children, by her family and by others.
She is the woman that younger women are to aspire to be. They see her faith and they want to follow in those same steps. They make their prayer that God would shape and mould them to be just like her, women of faith. They want to become women who live their lives before the face of God, looking to Christ in faith, and recognizing him as being the pearl of great price, the one who is of unsurpassed worth.
She is the woman that young men want to marry. They see a woman of faith, a woman who lives her life with care and regard to God, a woman whose eyes are fixed on Christ, and they say, “Yes, that’s a woman that I would want for my wife, that’s a woman I would want to raise children with.” Sometimes it’s said that the most important thing for our young people when it comes to marriage partners is to find someone in the church, someone who’s a member of a Canadian Reformed church or a sister church. Loved ones, especially young people, listen to me carefully: that’s just not good enough. There are hypocrites mixed in the church. There are people in the church who just go through the motions and really couldn’t give a rip about anything spiritual. In 1 Corinthians, we’re taught to marry “in the Lord,” and not to be married to unbelievers. In Proverbs 31, young men are taught to seek a wife who fears the LORD. It’s sad to say, but not everybody in the church fits that description. When you’re looking for a marriage partner, yes, the playing field is the church. But that doesn’t mean that everyone in the church is automatically fair game. Looking to Christ, you’ll follow his wisdom found here in Proverbs 31 and elsewhere in Scripture. Look for a marriage partner who has what matters for everything, that they fear the LORD, resting and trusting in Christ alone for their salvation and letting that faith bear fruit in their lives.
Faith is what matters everything for a woman who is shaped by God’s wisdom. Faith is not deceptive, because faith’s object is the one who is the Truth, who always tells the truth. Faith is directed towards the one who has redeemed us from lies and foolishness, Jesus Christ. Faith is not fleeting, because the author of faith is Jesus Christ working through his Holy Spirit. Faith will persevere because Jesus Christ will never let go of us. Because these things are so, we continue looking to him and letting his wisdom shape who we are and who we are becoming.
We began by noting the prevalence of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. As we conclude I would like to say something to those who may be struggling in those areas. Some (or even all) of this sermon, perhaps even the text, may make you angry, frustrated, or confused. Where you’re at is an awful, awful place. It’s slavery. You’re in bondage. You need help, more help than what I can give in a sermon on a Sunday morning. Perhaps family members are trying to help you – perhaps they just make matters worse. But let me encourage you to set aside your pride and get the help you need, medical care and counseling which will lead you out of these chains and direct you to Jesus Christ, the Saviour. In him, there is freedom and hope for change. Despite everything, you are his and you belong to him. He still loves you, and he will help you. Even with the weakest faith, you can be sure that his perfect life and sacrifice are enough for you too.
Loved ones, for all of us, we need the same message of hope and salvation. Christ and his redemption is not a fairy tale that has no relevance for our lives. His redemption intersects with our lives at every point. He has bought us body and soul. We belong to him, everything about us belongs to him. When we recognize that and throw ourselves on him, looking to his perfect person and work, we can be sure that his wisdom will continue to transform us – giving us the extreme make-over that really matters.
Let us pray:
Father in heaven,
We thank you for Jesus our Saviour and his perfect life, person and work. We praise you that he was always on track with what really matters and that all that he has done is given to us. Father, we confess to you that so often we struggle with our foolishness and we so easily listen to the deception of the world. Forgive us for our sin and weakness because of Christ and what he has done for us and in our place. Help us to look to him in faith and lead us with the Holy Spirit and your Word so that we live wisely. Help us to know that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting. Please give us your guidance so that we would fear you. We pray especially for the young girls of our congregation. We ask that they would grow into godly women who fear you, who know and believe what really matters and who are not deceived by the lies of the world. Help the parents among us to be instrumental in that, give them wisdom and love for the daughters you’ve entrusted to their care. And Father, we also pray for those in our congregation who struggle with eating disorders. We pray that you would set them free from this bondage. We plead that you would bring them the medical and spiritual care that they need to be released from this slavery, so that they may find freedom in our Lord Jesus. O Father, please have compassion on all who suffer in this way and bring relief and healing. We pray in the name of our Lord Jesus, AMEN.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
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