As we think about leadership over the next three Sundays, we are saying that leadership is less about being in charge and giving orders as it is about having influence in the life of another human being.As we think about leadership over the next three Sundays, we are saying that leadership is less about being in charge and giving orders as it is about having influence in the life of another human being.
Last week we looked at a father’s influence. Today, appropriately on Mother’s Day, we are exploring a mother’s influence.
Since 2003, Glamour Magazine has presented a “Glamour Award” to honor “extraordinary and inspirational” women. The recipients are women who are recognized as having significantly influenced areas such as entertainment, business, sports, music, science, education, and politics.
It certainly is not wrong to recognize and honor people who make unique and helpful contributions to culture. After all, God is not only the God of salvation but of creation. He is Lord of heaven and earth.
This means that all vocations should be regarded as sacred callings before God, whether the vocation is in the field of entertainment, business, sports, music, science, education, politics… or the vocation of motherhood.
In fact, when we look into the Scriptures, we see that God’s design for motherhood is very much a vocation—a full-time job—a high calling that is worthy of honor.
We need to remember this, because when awards are given to women who succeed in business, sports, music, science, education, and politics, we may be tempted to lose sight of motherhood as a sacred calling that is worthy of the highest honor.
One reason why I think motherhood as a vocation is honored so highly in Scripture is because motherhood shows us what it looks like to sacrifice yourself for someone else.
At its core, motherhood is a picture of the gospel—a picture that is painted for us by a man named King Lemuel in Proverbs 31:10-31.
There are two major sections to this passage. The first section is verses 10-27 which presents a mother’s sacrifice followed a second section in verses 28-31 that culminates with influence of her sacrifice.
10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. 15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. 16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. 19 In her hand she holds the distaffand grasps the spindle with her fingers. 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
In these verses, we see several facets of sacrifice.
First, she sacrifices her own ambitions. This is a highly capable woman who has the aptitude to be a CEO in today’s world. She is intelligent, productive, investment minded, a good manager who effectively equips employees; she is emotionally stable, physically fit, wise with her time, plans ahead, and is able to counsel with wisdom. She could have promoted herself. Instead, she gives herself to and for her husband and children, promoting them.
Second, she sacrifices her own profits. Most of what she makes in the small business she runs is spent on her family or given away to the poor. Even though she dresses well in expensive purple linen, she could have spent far more on herself that she does.
Third, she sacrifices her own comforts. This is a “working woman” if ever there was one. But she doesn’t complain about the inglorious rigors demanded of domestic upkeep. In v. 13, she works with “eager hands,” which according to the original Hebrew, literally reads, “she works with the delight of her hands” even when she must stay up late and get up early by sacrificing her own sleep.
Her sacrifice is a joyful giving of herself.She doesn’t hold her sacrifice over her husband and children or complain about the work, but gives herself completely to her calling as a wife, mother, and keeper of the home.
What this passage shows us so far is that motherhood as God designed it demands sacrifice.
This is something that non-mothers like myself may have taken for granted. First, there are years of sacrifice that we don’t see. The early years when this person grew me inside her own body, experienced nausea for months, then willingly endured the pain of childbirth. My presence in her life created late nights and early mornings. She began to arrange her life schedule around me. Feeding me. Changing me. Holding me, rocking me, reading to me, singing to me.
Then in later years, somehow we just expect mothers give up themselves for their children. Piano lessons. Soccer practice. Preparing meals. Doing dishes and folding clothes. Nursing me when I had the flu.
I fear that I grew entitled and haven’t shown the appreciation that I should. Maybe you can relate? After all, what we learn from this passage and know from experience is that to be a mother is to be a “working mother.” It may very well be that a “stay at home mom” is the hardest job in the world.
Of course, many women would love for their labor to be primarily in the home, but they simply are unable. The bills simply require it. And some have been unable to conceive.
And there are others who have followed legitimate outside the home callings and are able to balance their work in and out of the home, much like the woman in Proverbs 31.
The challenge for all of us is to see the work of motherhood as honorable, valuable, and significant—if not even more significant than what will get you a Glamour Award.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Did you notice the ripple effect of how her sacrifice influenced those around her.
The impact begins with her children in verse 28, who “rise up and call her blessed.” It took initiative for them to get up and show her appreciation for her sacrifice, modeling that it is fully appropriate to honor our moms in practical ways, like many of us will do today.
Next we hear from her husband in verses 28- 29, who extols her sacrifice, not merely with flowers or chocolate, but with words of affirmation. He doesn’t just think his praise; he expresses his appreciation out loud.
Finally, in the last two verses, the entire community chimes in to honor this woman. She hasn’t only made a difference in her home, but her sacrificial, joyful devotion has influenced and made a difference in the entire community.
I wonder how many of us feel like complete failures right now? I mean, if this is the standard for motherhood, then why even try?
I’ll be honest, this description makes me wonder if a woman like this has ever really existed? The notes in the ESV Study Bible agree with this assessment, saying that “this profile is an ideal: it is a particular example of full-scale virtue and wisdom.” The Proverbs 31 woman is the culmination and embodiment of the entire book of Proverbs.
From a redemptive perspective, this beautiful, selfless, radically sacrificial woman actually functions like the law, setting up a standard of motherhood that crushes any hope of a mothering righteousness that we that may hope to achieve.
This is why we must not miss is that this woman’s work, provision, tireless giving, compassion, wisdom and sacrifice is a shadow of Jesus’s work. Of his giving… of his compassion… and of his sacrifice.
If you travel up I-395 through Washington, D.C., and cross over the Potomac River, you will cross the Arland D. Williams, Jr., Memorial Bridge. On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the icy Potomac soon after take-off. A helicopter was dispatched to rescue survivors. One of them was Arland D. Williams.
Five times, the rescue helicopter dropped a rope to save Williams. Five times, he passed the rope to other passengers. When the rope was extended to Williams a sixth time, he was too weak to hold on, and succumbed to the frigid waters.
He willingly gave his life to for others.
So did Jesus.
After all, verse 31 is ultimately not about a wife and mother. It’s about Jesus. While we may “Honor her for all that her hands have done,” we worship Jesus.
As much as we would honor motherhood, what elicits the highest praise from our lips is not the work of a mother’s hands, but the work of a Savior’s hands—hands that were nailed to a cross to bear all of our mothering guilt and failure so that we can be set free from feeling condemned by the standard of perfection embodied in the Proverbs 31 woman.
What we discover is that living in light of the grace Jesus provides by the work of his hands, the Proverbs 31 woman no longer will condemn you. She will inspire you. And new desires begin to emerge—desires to be the kind of mother who does give her life for her own just as Jesus gave his life for his own.
And these desires emerge, they are met with the supernatural, empowering grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who is able to change us from the inside out as mothers and as children and as families, to his glory and for our joy.
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