Learning, Teaching, Writing, and Women

As a writing major in college, I took a bunch of classes in literature and literary theory. In my junior year, I also picked up an elective called How to Read the Bible, focused on biblical scholarship. 

They turned out to be basically the same skillset: You consider the themes and structure of the text, its historical context, what else that author has written, and opinions from other scholars. Yet my literature classes were full of women, while the biblical studies class was mostly men.  

Women have the same capacity as men for deep study, informed and reasoned discussion, and presentation of learning. These talents, in both sexes, are a gift to the individual and also to the body of Christ. 

In churches like ours that follow the biblical teaching that women are not “to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12), though, it can feel like there’s no outlet for a woman to share what she has learned. 

Encouragement for women

Scripture makes at least one thing clear on the subject of women in the ministry of the church: Women’s voices are valuable and needed for the building up of the whole church. 

Women are commanded to teach

Paul, in a letter to another young pastor, instructs that “Older women … are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5).

Women are instructed to pass on what they learn to younger women. Paul highlights the snowball effect of investing in the spiritual growth of other women: A woman benefits herself; she loves and builds up her household–and she is even granted the honor of upholding the integrity of God’s own reputation. 

Women’s voices are not only for women

Men can also benefit from the insights and wisdom of women. We’re told that “when Priscilla and Aquila heard [Apollos preaching], they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Priscilla, wife to Aquila, is included in both the hearing and the explaining. 

Priscilla knew more than the man in the pulpit. She used her godly wisdom to instruct one who was already “competent in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24), so that the gospel truth would be declared. Her contribution mattered in the kingdom of God; we find out later that Apollos’ teaching gained a large following (I Corinthians 3:4-5). Priscilla’s example demonstrates that there are appropriate avenues for a woman to instruct and even correct a man.

A need in the church

Our denomination, the PCA, has recognized that many of its churches are not encouraging women to serve to their full ability. Churches have tended to be “focused on what women cannot do rather than [on] fostering a biblically informed culture of what women are called to do” (WSMC report, Chapter 5).

The PCA commissioned the Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church (WSMC) study committee in 2016 “to pursue and equip the women of the church for every biblical role of service open to them” (WSMC report, Chapter 1). The committee submitted its report in 2017, including several recommendations to all PCA churches, detailed in Chapter 5 (pp. 58-63). 

The whole report is worth a read, to understand the value, biblical precedent, and bounds of women’s activities in the church. The thrust of the report is toward recognizing all the possible contributions women can make to the church. One opportunity that our church is pleased to offer is the WPCA blog. 

Write for the blog! 

I encourage any member to share on the blog, but this call is particularly to women. The church–our church–needs your wisdom, biblical insight, and experience. I hope the previous encouragements have eased any fears of overstepping biblical roles, but I realize there are other reasons people may hold back. 

I don’t have anything worth saying. Did the sermon strike you just so this week? Did something in your personal reading make you think? A blog doesn’t need to be a comprehensive analysis of a topic; in fact, smaller observations often make for more readable articles. I’ve found that I learn more by sitting down to write on a topic than if I simply study it for my own knowledge. 

I’m not trained in biblical scholarship. You have the Holy Spirit in you, teaching you through Scripture. There are plenty of Bible study tools out there (Knowable Word’s OIA method has been taught at our church), as well as commentaries for free online, for purchase, or for borrowing from our pastors. Study and write with prayer, and trust God to defend his truth. (Also, an editor will read your work and catch any blatant heresy.)

I’m not a writer. Writing is just thinking on paper. If you have an idea, jot down some notes and see where it goes. Ryan, as editor of the blog, or another writer can help with the writing. You could even co-write a piece with someone else to take the pressure off of you. 

Blogs are too high-tech for me. Write it by hand! I volunteer to type it up for you. Writers for the blog are not responsible for any of the techy stuff like formatting and posting articles. 

The WPCA blog exists for members of the church to share with one another what God is revealing to us. Anybody can write for the blog: men and women, pastors or lay people, the highly educated or the self-taught. We’d love to hear what God has taught you!

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Who Should Read Proverbs 31

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” So begins the description of the Proverbs 31 woman, familiar to Christian women and girls as the pinnacle of biblical womanhood.

Except—Proverbs 31 is not addressed to women.

In a 2018 article for Fathom Magazine, The Proverbs 31 Husband, Rachel Darnall points out that the entire chapter, including the passage about women, is addressed from King Lemuel’s mother to Lemuel himself, instructing him how to be a good man and a good king.

“The instruction at the conclusion is not ‘See that your wife conducts herself this way’ or ‘Find such a woman,’” Darnall writes. “The only direct instruction in the excellent wife discourse is this: ‘Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates’ (Proverbs 31:30–31).”

Freedom from Poor Applications

Redirected to a male audience, the exhortation in the excellent wife discourse shifts from “Women, do these things to be considered good” to “Men, value these qualities in women.” 

This frees women from some stifling misapplications. Proverbs 31 is neither an instruction manual to women nor a scorecard of their worth. It doesn’t teach women how to be good enough to earn a husband, respect, or acceptance by God.

Ladies and gentlemen, I can sew on a button, but I will never “make linen garments and sell them” (Proverbs 31:24). Will I never be an excellent wife?

Such misapplications create a false correlation between the perceived quality of a woman and the level of respect she deserves. If the excellent wife is to be praised in the gates (Proverbs 31:31), is the sub-par wife to be shamed in her home?

A woman’s worth is found in being created in the image of God: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

The world tells us a woman’s worth is in her beauty, her career, her number of sexual partners, her health, or her popularity on social media. The church community has its own false standards: At various stages of life, women earn worth through being married, bearing children, virginity, homeschooling, teaching Sunday school, or having the best dish at the potluck. These are lies. Women, you are valuable and worthy of respect because you were crafted by God’s hand, a reflection of his own image. 

If she is a sister in Christ, a woman’s worth is further grounded in having been “bought with a price” and adopted by God as a “fellow heir with Christ” (I Corinthians 6:20, Romans 8:17). The death and resurrection of Jesus makes her more than “good enough,” and no amount of weaving, vineyard planting, or purple dyeing can strengthen or weaken that.

The Value of the Excellent Wife

“She is more precious than jewels” is a statement of value. If every woman has inherent worth given by God, then what makes the excellent wife so valuable? King Lemuel’s mom answers: “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).

The specific activities listed, such as planting vineyards or weaving cloth, point beyond their cultural context to godly qualities. We have many gifted seamstresses in our church. I’m sorry ladies; quilting is not a fruit of the Spirit. But your generosity in sharing your talent absolutely is!

Take, for example, verse 14: “She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.” This woman shows wisdom as well as care for her family by planning ahead, shopping around, maybe ordering in bulk, to steward her family’s resources well.  

Or consider Proverbs 31:16: “She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” This woman demonstrates initiative, commitment, and follow-through. She not only makes a savvy purchase, but she also capitalizes on her investment by launching a business that requires her continued oversight, in order to generate revenue for her household. 

The traits in Proverbs 31 are elsewhere in Scripture addressed to all believers, not just women. Paul encourages industriousness (2 Thessalonians 3:10-11); James urges us to seek wisdom (James 1:5). Jesus in the Gospels “opens [his] hand to the poor and reaches out [his] hands to the needy” (Proverbs 31:20).

What God declares valuable in women is the same thing that is valuable in men: godly character.

Proverbs 31 is for You 

Understanding this passage as a meditation on excellence rather than a list of instructions opens applications for every reader.

As Darnall points out, the direct instruction in the passage is to husbands, to notice and praise these qualities in their wives. She explores more applications within marriage in her article.

Single men seeking wives should use these qualities when considering a third date.

Women do well to dwell on what God has labeled excellent and pursue these qualities.

Anyone who knows at least one woman should encourage these qualities in the women around them. When water cooler talk turns to women, men can direct their conversation toward recognizing these qualities in their female peers. Those in leadership may entrust greater responsibility to women who show these qualities. Married women can commend these qualities in their single friends who don’t receive the same encouragement from a spouse. 

The wisdom of Proverbs—all of its chapters—is a gift from God to all of his people. God has not only redeemed us by his Son and given us his Spirit to keep us from sin; he has also given us practical advice to promote the well being of ourselves, our households, and our communities.

(And, in case it wasn’t clear, I recommend Darnall’s article.)

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