Law and Wisdom

A very interesting article was posted over at Desiring God yesterday.

Confessions of a Conflicted Complimentarian by Wendy Alsup, I suspect, voices the feelings of many women in the Church today, particularly those in the more conservative end.

In the churches where submission of women is emphasised, where the highest “rank” that they can rise to is Sunday School teacher, and the “biblical” model of womenhood which is taught is that of a good mother and wife, it can be incredibly difficult and frustrating for those women who aren’t wives or mothers or called to teach Sunday School.

What are we supposed to do?

I love Proverbs 31

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.  She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”  Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:25-30 ESV)

I want to be that woman!

And there’s a lot of pressure to find that husband, be the perfect wife and raise little angels as children.

But, as Alsup points out, this wisdom is not the law.

She writes:

Scripture’s ideals haunted me. They hung over my head, and I felt condemned by the way they were presented to me by well meaning teachers.

Apart from the gospel.

Christ paid my debt to God, but he didn’t just bring my spiritual bank account to zero. Christ’s righteous life was then credited to my account. I went from being a prisoner with a sentence against them they could never pay off to a child of the king with all the resources that come with that position in God’s household.

. . .

In Christ, instead of feeling condemned by the law’s standard, I can lift my head. I can look at Scripture’s words to women, even the annoying Proverbs 31 wife, not with condemnation, but with hope and inspiration. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Yes, that is a great ideal. No, I can’t make it happen myself. Instead of hiding from God in condemnation or despising her as an unattainable standard, I turn to God in my need and find grace and mercy. In Christ, I can boldly access my Father in heaven and avail myself of his resources

We needn’t fear or resent this wisdom. It is not the standard. And it needs to stop being taught as such. Women can be all that God calls them to be, all that the woman in Proverbs 31 is, without a husband and kids because Christ has paid the debt and credited our account so that we can be filled with hope and fulfilled in our blessings.

Alsup puts this wisdom/law problem in brilliant contrast in a follow-up post on her blog (Practical Theology for Women):

Wisdom is not law. And wisdom is only wise when applied correctly in the right situations. You can’t read Proverbs the same as the 10 Commandments, yet in our fight against moral relativism, conservative Christians fear situational wisdom. The result is silly, one-dimensional conclusions.

Through our fear of diminishing the value or importance of Scripture we’re attempting to apply all of it in the same manner we would apply the 10 Commandments. But that is not the purpose of the proverbs, which are clearly written for certain situations. This doesn’t lessen their significance or usefulness for application when those situations arise but it should make us wary of setting ourselves standards that God Himself did not intend.

She finishes her post with an exhortation to listen to Paul’s words in Galatians to “walk by the Spirit” (5:16). Only by pressing into the Holy Spirit Himself can we ever hope to be able to “apply wisdom in wise ways without fear”.

I would like to get married and have children one day but I might not. And I have to be okay with that. I have to be certain of who I am in Christ regardless of that. I have to know that He is on my side and will provide me with all my needs and all kinds of adventures if wife-ness isn’t His plan. And I need to know that there is a church that will have my back if I don’t fit in to their vision of the ideal woman. That they will enable me, equip me, release me to be who I am, and not who they think I should be.


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