Not By Works

Updated: May 3, 2020

Good morning, With schools closed until the end of the year, I have very unexpectedly found myself in the role of both homeschooler and homemaker in recent weeks. My exceedingly excellent wife Ashleigh is a blessing in both of those roles, but as an ER Nurse, she has been as busy at work in these days as ever before, allowing me the opportunity to help out in both roles. I think it took me exactly two days of half-finished homework and microwaved meals to raid my wife's bookshelf in a desperate search for help. My wife has respectable book collection - perhaps born of the fact that I used to drag her christian conferences all the time - that I think it fairly representative of the major books one would find flowing from evangelicalism. Unsurprisingly, there were more than a few that were either explicitly centered on Proverbs 31, or used Proverbs 31 as a jumping off point.   As I opened them up, I found a remarkable consistency - How to be a Proverbs 31 woman.  Ten steps. Five goals. 12 characteristics.  100-day plan.  Every once and a while, I would find an author say "being a Proverbs 31 woman isn't about being perfect, its about fearing the Lord!" Finally, I would whisper to myself.  And then, turning the page, the author would define what it means to fear the Lord. Fearing the Lord, it turns out, means "we need to be willing to work hard at what God is calling us to do".   Ah, so it's still working at the law with all our strength.  By this logic, when Proverbs 31:10 asks "A excellent wife, who can find?", I was beginning to think it was an honest question.  Who can find someone that perfect?   As we read that question today - and the proverb that follows it - we would then end up in Ecclesiastes, another book on wisdom.  But interestingly, if you were reading Proverbs 31 in the time of Christ (which means you are reading it in Hebrew - congratulations!), immediately after reading "A excellent wife, who can find?", you find yourself in the book of Ruth (the Hebrew Bible ordered books differently than we do). 

And then, in Ruth 3:11, we find Boaz proclaim this:  "And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman". Although Bible translations choose from a range of words for these passages, make no mistake - they are the same in Hebrew.  When the author of Proverbs 31 asks about a "virtuous wife" and Boaz proclaims Ruth a "virtuous woman", they are using the same hebrew word - חַ֖יִל.  These are the only two times in the Bible that a woman is called "חַ֖יִל".   Now, it is important to pause here and say that everything described in Proverbs 31 is pleasing to the Lord.  Indeed, it is a wonderful thing to work hard at our responsibilities, and to make hard labor unto the Lord - Jesus even explicitly says "if you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).  The debate is not over whether or not Christians should work hard at good works - the question is how do we get there. And since Ruth directly follows Proverbs 31 in the Hebrew Bible, and is the only woman in the Scriptures to be called the "virtuous" woman, perhaps we should ask how Ruth got there? "For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God". Before Ruth worked hard and honorably in the field, before strength and dignity were her clothing, before she opened her mouth with wisdom and kindness was on her tongue, Ruth clung to the Lord.  That was "how she got there."  To rely on our works is the lie that the deceiver has been trying to get us to believe since the beginning - it is a lie Jesus spent his entire earthly ministry dispelling.  Jesus told a story about two men going up to the temple to pray (Luke 18:10-14); and it was not the one who fasted twice a week and tithed and kept the law who was justified.   We cling to him as sinners begging for mercy.  We go where Christ is, we lodge in His house, and His people become our people too.   We ask for mercy for unfinished work, for household chores undone.  We ask for mercy for fraying relationships, for bills that pile up. We ask for mercy to lead children well, for frustrations and struggles.  And because of Christ, the Father looks down on us in love, and is pleased with the prayers of His people for all these things. Do not look to the work of your hands during this quarantine for your happiness or worth.   If the pandemic forces us to move out of judging ourselves entirely by our works –out of trying to accomplish good works by simply by working harder– then it will not have been lost time at all.  There is one who has accomplished your happiness and your worth with the works of His hands –cling to Him, and in His love find the grace for today.  After all, He has promised it!

—David Schexnayder, Administrator

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