So we are now considering the question of respect, submission and authority. We have looked at love, sacrifice and authority with regard to husbands, and now we need to reflect on the other side of the coin. Remember that authority in the Christian framework is a Trinitarian thing. Authority gladly surrendered is the foundation of authority bestowed. This is true of husbands and wives both, though in different ways.
“Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: she has killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city, whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9:1-6).
Before looking at this particular text, we need to take a step back and consider that in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is a woman. But lest we rush to conclusions, so is folly. Men are summoned to come to wisdom, and to court her, and to avoid folly, and not to be seduced by her. The language here is the language of a great lady who has prepared a great banquet. She has built her house, she has overseen the slaughter of the cattle, she has mixed the wine, and has set the table. She directs her servant girls, and sends out invitations, and invites the guests to come and learn wisdom. Those who are simple and those who are lacking understanding are invited to come. They are told to come eat her bread and drink her wine. In doing this, they forsake foolishness (which is another kind of woman), and to live in the way of understanding.
WISDOM OR FOLLY
In this world, wisdom is not found lying on the ground. Wisdom is not something that women automatically possess or represent to others. Given the structure of the world, they must automatically represent wisdom or folly. They must either be a particular embodiment of one or the other.
AUTHORITY AND SERVICE
Take the image that is found in this text. When wisdom builds the house of seven pillars, when she tells one of the men servants to slaughter the cattle, when she selects her wines, when she is busy with the seating arrangements—who sits where—and she decorates the table, when she addresses the invitations, what kind of picture do we have? We see a woman who is a great lady, one with authority (over the stables, the wine cellar, the servants’ quarters, the kitchen), and the authority is all expended in service to others. In short, we have a hostess. Now this is the model. The ultimate in feminine service does not cause us to walk into the house, point at the hostess, and say, “Who’s the drudge?” When wisdom serves in this way, her authority rises and grows. This is the case even when, as here, she is giving her invitations to simpletons and buffoons.
By its egalitarianism, our culture has declared war on the true authority of the Christian woman. The movement has been two-fold—using both taunts and lies. A woman’s grace and authority (consistent with true biblical femininity) lies in her being a lady. The taunts are predictable—“church ladies,” meaning censorious old biddies, are dismissed as being fussy, prissy, busybodies. The idea of wisdom and stature and glory do not enter the picture at all. But of course it doesn’t help when certain women help fulfill the caricature by becoming censorious old biddies. It is important that we do not confound this ideal of Christian womanhood with the idea of being rich.
The lies are directed against the younger women—they are told, for example, that true fulfillment will come in the corporate world (in which women are enlisted to try to become like men). Another lie falls under the heading of what we might call “lowlife authenticity.” For about three centuries, we have been taught (by the devil, or someone like him) that grime is more “authentic” than being clean, disheveled more real than being put together, and so on. Like most lies of this nature, the destructive impact of it falls most heavily on women. When a woman’s authority consists of learning to act like a lady, what happens when the idea of being a lady, or “acting like a lady,” is hooted off the public stage? The answer is that young women are left with no good options.
A HOUSE WITH SEVEN PILLARS:
The Bible never teaches that it is wrong to strive to obtain the authority that God has granted to you. The issue is always how we do so. Jesus does not say that we are to rip out the chief seats in the synagogue, but rather how to relate to them. He does not teach us to get rid of seats of honor at banquets—He teaches us how to get into them. He does not say that it is wrong to want to be great in the kingdom of heaven; He shows us how to become great in the kingdom of heaven. And the glorious thing is that His method of doing this (becoming the servant of all) is a great way of removing the toxins of selfishness that might be corrupting our ambition. This said, a Christian woman ought to want to bear and represent godly authority in her home. How should this be done?
When a woman serves in the way described in our text, she is serving in a way that increases her stature in the household, and in the mind and heart of her husband. But in order to “work,” it has to be seen as a sacrifice offered to God, and not a trick offered to your husband. If a woman says, “If I do this, my husband will be maneuvered into thinking that I am really something,” this is all wrong. But if she says that this is how God describes wisdom (the lady) in Scripture, that she wants to imitate it, and that she wants to embody the same kind of thing in her own life, God blesses this.
If Lady Wisdom (with all her wisdom) from the book of Proverbs were placed into your situation, how would she prepare dinner tonight? How would she mix the wine? How would she decorate the dining room? The living room? How would she make love? How would direct the work of the children? How would she carry herself? How would she dress?
The Christian faith does not take authority away from women at all. In fact, it is the only way that women in this world have ever really had any true authority at all. And the words of our Lord Jesus are fulfilled.