Most God-fearing men who have embarked on the search for “what is good” according to Proverbs 18:22 have consulted Proverbs 31:10-31 to identify the traits and characteristics of a suitable mate. Some may even have given the qualities of a “wife of noble character” higher priority than physical attraction, emotional attachment or personal desire in their choice of a mate. Most likely all who found what they were looking for with the Lord’s help believe they have a partner who matches up to some degree when compared to the picture of an ideal wife presented by King Lemuel. Apparently he was taught everything he needed to know about women by his mother who not only did her job well but also provided us with a character sketch of a virtuous woman that is every man’s dream.
However, embedded in these verses that describe the qualities of a virtuous woman, wife and mother are three vitally important roles that the man as husband and father can and should play in her life. Together these three roles describe the place of a man in a virtuous woman’s life, and serve the critical functions of acknowledging, affirming, encouraging and supporting her. The three ways a man contributes to his wife’s virtue relate to: her personhood, her place in the family, and her position in society. Let’s look at each of these male functions individually.
Her Personhood: Confidence vs. Control
The first responsibility of a husband is referred to in Proverbs 31:11: “Her husband has confidence in her.” Confidence is related to trust, and trust is related to security. When a husband expresses his trust and confidence in his wife, she is affirmed in her sense of worth, capability and self-esteem. She feels a sense of security because she knows her husband trusts her ability and judgment. She senses his support and does not feel she has to make excuses for her actions or justify her decisions. This affirmation leads directly to intimacy and closeness where each is secure in the relationship. It provides a basis for turning to her husband as a resource and makes it easier to confide in him. Husbands who do not have and/or do not express confidence in their wives will create a dependency that is harmful to the marriage and the family, and will undermine affection over time.
Husbands often substitute control over their wives for confidence in their wives. Men who are insecure and lack confidence themselves tend to resort to control to compensate for their own weaknesses. Such men are typically threatened by the competence of their wives and over time contribute to the erosion of their wives’ capabilities by lack of acknowledgement. In a spiritual sense, a husband who does not have confidence in his wife and who exercises control rather than trust is manifesting traits that Jesus identified in reference to the Gentiles who “lord it over” their subjects and emphasize their authority (Mt. 20:25). In contrast, He exhorted His followers to be servant leaders following His example: “Whoever wants to be great among you must first be your servant” (Mt. 20:26). A husband who expresses his confidence in his wife to his wife will find he is a great man in her eyes. The key here is expressing your confidence in her to her, not merely letting her assume that it exists.
Her Place In The Family: Credit vs. Criticism
The second responsibility of a husband is referred to in Proverbs 31:28: “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” The key to this role is giving credit or praising her in the context of the family. Children observe and learn very quickly from the way their father treats their mother, and they tend to replicate what they see in their own relationship with her. A husband who praises his wife in the presence of his children is modeling constructive behavior that they will emulate. Doing so secures her place in the family, shores up her authority as a mother and creates a united front that gives the children security. Just as a husband’s expressed confidence bolsters his wife’s sense of security, expressed credit gives children a sense of security. When a husband gives credit to his wife, the foundation of the family is solidified and children can venture out of the family with the knowledge that their parents are reliable and trustworthy.
The common substitute for credit is criticism. Husbands who berate and belittle their wives undermine her personhood and place in the family, raising havoc with both the marriage and the family. A husband who criticizes his wife to make himself look good or to vindicate his own weaknesses and shortcomings, is particularly detrimental to the family. The apostle Paul admonishes husbands to “love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (1 Pet. 3:1). And Peter advises husbands to “be considerate as you live with your wives” (1 Pet. 3:7). Criticism is a particularly damaging form of harshness and is a singularly inconsiderate style of relating. Compliments and praise on the other hand support the wife and build a constructive attitude and positive morale in the family. A good general guideline relative to credit and constructive criticism is to praise and give credit in public (where the children and other family members can see it) and limit any criticism to private discussions.
Her Position In Society: Compliment vs. Castigate
The basis for the third aspect of a husband’s role is established in Proverbs 31:23 where he is presented as a leader in the community: “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.” The actual responsibility is that of being a press agent for his wife. The passage concludes with the words: “Let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (vs. 31). The implication is that it is the husband’s job to extol the virtues of his wife while in the public arena, thereby establishing her position in society. Rather than boast of his own accomplishments and capabilities, the husband’s job is to compliment his wife lifting her up to public view as a worthwhile and capable person, partner and parent.
So often in social settings men have a tendency to make fun of their wives’ idiosyncrasies rather than focusing on their virtues. Men substitute castigation for compliments even though such disclosures may be meant in fun and are seemingly benign. At a recent men’s retreat where our conversation had turned to discussing our wives, I recall feeling gratified that I was married to my wife and not one of the other wives based on things the men said about them. Such a default response is a good indication that their wives’ works were not being praised and their failings were being exposed. A key question men need to ask themselves regarding how we project our wives’ images in the eyes of others is derived from Song of Solomon 2:4: “He brought me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me was love.” Like the city gate, the banquet hall is a public place. What does the banner say that I place over my wife when I raise her to the public eye? Is it demeaning and derogatory or does it convey a message of love, admiration and respect?
The Challenge: Take Your Place As A Man
Ephesians 5:23 exhorts husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” Specifically we are to love our wives as our own bodies, making sure we help them grow, and make them feel special (Eph. 5:29). When a man takes his place seriously in a noble woman’s life, he will support her as a person by expressing confidence in her rather than controlling her. He will shore up her place in the family by praising her rather than criticizing her, and he will secure her position in society by complimenting her rather than castigating her. In doing so the full potential of “a wife of noble character” will be realized, prompting joy in the marriage, promoting fulfillment in the family and bringing glory to God.
By James Trotzer
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.