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So remember our application point. This is where we’re going: A noble character finds identity in Christ. That is a point that applies to all of us, and if you stick with me, I promise we will get there.
First, we’re going to read Proverbs 31:10-31. It’s a long one, but it is very worth your time. The passage is titled “The Wife of Noble Character,” and it goes like this:
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 distaff
and 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.
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.
Take a few minutes to go back and read that again, another time or two. This is what noble character looks like, biblically speaking. God spoke this ideal into my life at a time when I had no idea what it looked like to be a person of character. Just like the Spirit spoke to me through the prayer of Saint Francis, the Spirit spoke to me through the story of Ruth and through Proverbs 31. This ideal filled in all the holes in my idea of my identity. This passage showed me what God had for me instead.
And even though I wasn’t a wife then, I wasn’t a mother then, I saw what God’s ideal for me could be, if I were to become those things. And I began to see that before I could ever hope to be a wife of noble character, or a mother of noble character, I had to become a woman of noble character. And oh my goodness, there’s plenty in Proverbs 31 to aspire to long before the wife or mother stage. There’s a lot in here about what it means to just be a person who finds identity in Christ.
This passage isn’t just about the woman at the heart of these verses, either. Her character shows us the character of her husband, who “has full confidence in her,” who is “respected at the city gate” and has a “seat among the elders”—a man who “praises her” and honors her for her faith. Her character shows us the character of her children, who “arise and call her blessed.”
The term noble character in the Bible is a very interesting one. For one thing, the term only appears four times in the entire text. We’ve already looked at two of those occurrences here, and I’m going to touch on the other two just to give you some perspective. Through inductive Bible studies, we often do what is called a “word study,” where we do just that—we grab an interesting word, and we study it. We look at all of the different nuances of meaning that we can glean from the way a particular word is used in different contexts all over Scripture. When we’re looking at a term like noble character, for instance, which only appears four times in the whole Bible, we see something really interesting right away. The term is used three times in the Old Testament and one time in the New Testament, and we’ll look at those other two occurrences right now.
First, earlier in the book of Proverbs, the term noble character is used in Proverbs 12:4: “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.”
Now, just let that sink in for a moment.
Wives? How would you like to be described as “decay” in your husband’s bones? That’s a pretty graphic contrast to the ideal God has for us, isn’t it? That sounds an awful lot like a Genesis 3 wife to me.
Now, whatever you do, don’t turn and look at your husband right now, because he might be looking at you like “Woman, these bones have seen some decay.” But husbands, don’t you go getting too cocky, either, because we’re talking about character issues here, and character is not a male/female thing. This goes for all of us. Would we rather be known as people of noble character, or as decay in the bones of the people we love the most? It’s an either/or type scenario, the way it’s written in Scripture.
Personally, as a woman who found Christ after a divorce, I know my ex-husband is out there somewhere, and I gotta tell ya, this contrast hits a little too close to home. Part of seeing God’s ideal for my life comes from seeing how far from His ideal my life has been. And I know I was not a wife of noble character during my first marriage. So, what does Proverbs 12:4 tell me about me? Well, if I wasn’t one, then I must have been the other. And, well… ouch.
Now we’ll jump to the New Testament, where we find the final occurrence of the term noble character. This is where we see some context forming—some connection around what this “noble character” is made of in terms of Christianity. See, it’s one thing to look at the concept of noble character in the Old Testament, but we are New Testament believers, and so we have to look at everything in the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament.
(That’s why it’s particularly dismaying to see folks pointing to Genesis 3 as a proof text for monumentalizing the inferiority of women in the marriage relationship, since the point of New Testament teaching on marriage is to free us from the bondage of the Curse and to love properly in Christ… but hey, I digress.)
So in light of what the New Testament says about noble character, how do we look at what the Old Testament says about noble character?
Let’s look at the one and only verse in the New Testament where that term occurs. It’s in Acts 17:11, and that verse says this: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
What exactly does this verse have to do with us today? Here is a very interesting layer of meaning on top of that term noble character that affects how we understand and apply it. Here, in the New Testament, noble character is linked directly with being open and receptive to the message of Jesus Christ. It is linked directly with studying the Scriptures and testing the words of our teachers against the Word of God. Because the Berean Jews received the gospel message with “great eagerness” and engaged with the Scriptures, the Berean Jews were of “more noble character” than those in Thessalonica, who apparently did not respond that way. Keep that nugget in mind for a minute—we'll get back to it.
Okay. Let’s look at a few more interesting things about this term noble character. Back in the Old Testament, the term is used only to describe women. We don’t hear about men of noble character or husbands of noble character. We read the story of Ruth, who is described as a woman of noble character, and in Proverbs, we read about the wife of noble character, who is, incidentally, described like some wonder woman dream girl the world has never actually seen in real life.
Now, think about the role of wife for just a moment, in terms of New Testament imagery. There’s a wife in the New Testament, isn’t there? We all know her… don’t we? The bride of Christ? His Church? All of us? Shouldn’t we be people of noble character? Shouldn’t we receive the message of Christ with great eagerness, like the Berean Jews did, and shouldn’t we be examining the Scriptures every day, to see if what our leaders say is true? Shouldn’t we be described as people of more noble character than those who don’t engage the Word?
Did I mention this point was for all of us today? A noble character finds identity in Christ. But wait, there's more. Stay tuned.
Next >>> Redeeming the Bride: Ideals, Identity, and Character Issues (Part Four)