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Women of the Bible

Womanly Virtues

Esther

Lesson audio

In this era of liberated women, we seldom hear of “womanly virtues.” Women are now presumed to be interchangeable with men; also, virtue seems an antique subject. But we may still look back and see such things.

Modesty

How long has it been since you heard this as the subject of a sermon? In my life it seems to have been aimed primarily at the teenage audience. But it has not disappeared (yet) from the Bible.

Vashti

Among Star Trek devotees we find the “red shirt rule.” In most episodes (of the original series) there is an individual, wearing a red uniform shirt, whose part consists of a scream and then being {eaten by the monster, dissolved by the slime, vaporized, etc}. Vashti is the red shirt of her time. The king sends for her to strut for the boys, all of whom are well soused at the time. It should be noted that the ancient writers of the Targum specifically state that she was to show up wearing her crown – and nothing else.

That gives Vashti a decision to make. Like many such, the right decision will require courage. We need to appreciate her dilemma:

  • If she does what the king commands, she goes from wife to stripper. What’s that going to do for her worth in the king’s eyes? That, and the personal humiliation, argue against compliance.
  • On the other hand, the king is the most powerful man in the world at the time, and not in the slightest averse to hanging people who displease him.

So what would you do? Vashti took courage and refused to disgrace herself this way. The king was nice to her; he simply removed her from being the queen and (in effect) locked her up in the harem for life. He never saw her again. This is a heavy price to pay for modesty.

Modesty a form of advertising

Just what does modesty say about a woman?

  • Remember that modesty is not only about erotic clothing but also extravagant clothing.[1] There is an element of stewardship in this. Is your money better invested in clothes or Christian charity?
  • Modesty project an image of godliness. When you walk past a woman in five inch heels and fishnet stockings, you would not think that she is a Christian. If you know she goes to church, what then do you think of her? What image do you wish to project?[2]
  • Modesty also projects an aura of quiet confidence. A woman who is secure in her marriage and life may say so in the way she dresses.
Modesty commanded

You might think that modesty is useful, then – but why would it be commanded?

  • You are a Christian; the world judges the church by the way its members look and act. If a married woman of the church looks like she’s hunting for a new bedroom partner, what does that say to the world?
  • Even more, what does it say to her husband? It’s fun to have the lady of the house dress sexily for the bedroom – but would you want her to run to the grocery store like that?
  • Beyond that, what does it say to God? The woman in the mirror should look like a child of God, not a child of the streets.

Submission

The king’s reaction to Vashti’s refusal is to banish her – and issue an edict to the effect that all wives were to be submissive to their husbands. The rationale given is that otherwise there will be no end of trouble. The family is the building block of civilization. We will therefore briefly examine submission.

General rules

For the sake of brevity, we shall summarize:

·         All authority is given to Christ.[3] Therefore any legitimate authority must, somehow, come from Him. The husband’s authority is given in Scripture.

·         Authority is given for the benefit of those in submission. We give fire trucks the road because of the benefits we obtain from this.

·         Responsibility determines authority in the kingdom of God.

Husbands and wives

The husband’s authority comes from Christ, as given in the Scripture. But that authority is given for the wife’s benefit. Therefore, she is required to cooperate with that authority. That’s what submission is; the right response to righteous authority.

This authority is almost absolute; it therefore must be matched with a great responsibility. It is. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church.[4] Consider what this means:

  • The simplest illustration is this: if required, you must be willing to die for your wife.
  • Consider how Christ loved the church on the Cross. Some of those jeering Him would soon become Christians – whom He forgave with, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” When your wife screeches at you, what then should do in return?

Spiritual leadership is given to the male.[5] But consider what leadership is in the church: it is servant leadership. Male authority is not given primarily as a means of getting another beer and more chips.

The limits of submission

Nothing is absolute except God. Here are some of the recognized limits to a wife’s submission:

  • When the husband commands something that is plainly contrary to what God teaches.
  • There is a mutual submission required in the matter of sex.[6]
  • Adultery, of course, can destroy the marriage.

Which brings us to the gray areas: what happens when a wife is being made miserable by her husband? What about a husband who physically beats his wife?[7]

Both of these are areas in which the husband sins against his wife. What is a Christian’s response to someone who inflicts sin upon them? What is the response Christ made? Love and forgiveness are still virtues; but there are some practical difficulties in some cases – and separation is not the same as divorce.

Courage

Whenever I discuss submission in marriage, there will usually be a woman who tells me, “I’m afraid of what my husband might do.” We shall take the example of Esther and examine courage as a womanly virtue.

Personal courage

At its root, courage is something you either have or want. But I would have you see it in three connections:

  • Courage is coupled with duty. When you know what is right, that you should do. Duty is a strong support of courage; even the worst of husbands may respect his wife for doing what is right.
  • Courage is coupled with honor and integrity. It is sad to know of the many women who come to church alone (or with the kids), putting a brave face on the truth that their husbands will never come. But see what this says: it tells the husband and the world that this is a woman of integrity. She is a Christian no matter the cost.
  • Courage is coupled with love. Think of the physical danger you would risk to save the life of one of your children. Sometimes, loving your husband means standing up to him.
Courage in marriage

St. Peter puts it this way:

1Pe 3:3-6 NASB Your adornment must not be merely external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; (4) but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. (5) For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; (6) just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

Do what is right, without fear. But how can we do that? Isn’t fear something uncontrollable? No; the Christian conquers fear with love:

1Jn 4:18 NASB There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

Courage as a child of God

Male or female, the Christian is required to be courageous:

  • We are commanded to give a ready defense of the faith. Even in public (and we all know how easy it is to speak in public.)
  • We are required to be courageous in persecution – Esther is the example here.
  • For some of us, combat Christianity is required. How else would the unlovely know the love of Christ?


[1] 1st Timothy 2:9-10

[2] The same question may be asked of an interview suit.

[3] Matthew 28:15

[4] Ephesians 5:22-33

[5] 1st Timothy 2:11-12

[6] 1st Corinthians 7:3-5

[7] At least in the case of physical assault, it is my practice to encourage the wife to separate from the husband for a while.

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