The Measure of a Woman
Fair is fair. Last time we looked at what can be expected from Christian men. Today we want to do the same with respect to girls. What should a fellow expect in a potential girlfriend/fiancé/wife? To put it more strongly, what should a fellow look for when he seeks a partner?
Proverbs is one book of the Bible that has a lot to say on this subject. The choice of a partner is a very important part of human life and God has not left young men without advice in this matter! If you want to find a good wife for yourself, read Proverbs!
First of all, we can notice that Proverbs is very upbeat about marriage.
"He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favour from the LORD."
Choosing and finding a mate is something to which no shame is attached. God created the desire for marriage. Marriage and sexuality are treated with openness and dignity in Proverbs. Today it can be noticed that many young men are very interested in the beautiful girl (for sexual reasons), but very few reflect a healthy desire to find a wife with whom they can share life.
But how then do we go about finding the right partner for ourselves? Well, whenever we make selections out of multiple possibilities, we need criteria (I know this sounds a bit clinical, but let's pursue it anyway). Let's start with the matter of appearances. What do Proverbs say about the importance of looks? Listen to Proverbs 11:22:
Like a gold ring in a swine's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.
In the ancient near east, women often wore rings in their noses (sounds a bit strange, but we wear them in our ears). If you would put such a ring on a pig's snout, you would have something really strange and laughable. A pig and a gold ring just don’t match.
In the same way, a woman who is beautiful but who doesn't know how to conduct herself in the light of the Word of God is a kind of monstrosity. Don't we see all too many such pitiful creatures in the entertainment world? We see creatures with perfect bodies and perfect faces but who live unspeakably bad lives. They are like gold rings on pig snouts.
In this rather funny way, the Bible wants to tell people to look past the end of their nose. Look beyond the surface. Beauty is only skin deep. We can think here, too, of what Peter writes in chapter 3 of his first letter. He is addressing especially those wives who became Christians while their husbands remained in unbelief. But what he says applies to all of us. He says to the women:
Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, the wearing of fine clothing.
Walk into a mall and you will see that women's priorities haven't changed: hair-dressing salons, jewellery stores and fashion boutiques are still the order of the day!
Peter, of course, is not saying that women should not make themselves attractive (see a previous column, "Looking Good"). He does not prohibit a perm or a nice dress. He does not say that they should neglect outer appearance, have messy hair and wear shabby clothing. But Peter argues for a sense of values and priorities. The outer appearance of a woman, he says, is not nearly as important as her inner character.
The youthful body and the perfect face idolized by our culture quickly fade. Christian women should avoid the world's futile search for outer beauty and instead look for lasting, deeper-than-skin beauty. And young men should not look for glamour, but for the beauty which can't be bought at any store, the beauty which comes from the heart. Peter says that women should adorn themselves (that is, make themselves beautiful) with the
"imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious."
A gentle and quiet spirit. That is what God considers beautiful. And young men should learn to use the same yardstick as does God when they seek out a partner. They should not look for a woman who is enslaved to fashion or to the "body culture" of our day, not for one who flaunts her sexuality with tight-fitting and suggestive clothing, but for the woman who quietly rests in God. Then you get a beauty that will still be there even after the inevitable wrinkles have appeared.
Yes, look for a woman who adorns herself "modestly and sensibly with seemly apparel" (that is, not extravagantly in order to make a display of herself). Be impressed with the woman who adorns herself with "good deeds, as befits women who profess religion" (1 Timothy 2:9).
After all, what will be the purpose of a marriage that might emerge from your first phone call? The purpose will not be just to look good, but to build up a life in the service of God, a life in which your home can be a center for the progress of God's Kingdom. Together you want to be servants of God and co-workers of Jesus Christ.
The warning of Proverbs against vain beauty is very timely. Today, the female form is everywhere exposed. For some people, modesty is an incomprehensible concept. Just look at the beach dress of even so-called Christian youth. God is not pleased about the lack of discretion. Young men's minds are easily filled with images of beautiful and so-called "sexy" girls. Also through pornography (whether on TV, video, magazine or movie), minds are led to fixate on impure images. This cannot help young, men in "abstaining from unchastity." This kind of deviance will not aid the young man who wants to choose "a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God" (1 Thessalonians 4:4, 5).
Our culture is saturated in lust. And so let the young women ensure that they do not contribute to this by focusing on the external. Let them develop what pleases God: a quiet and gentle spirit.
And let them develop the kind of skills necessary for managing a Christian household. Proverbs 19:14 speaks of the "prudent wife." We might also translate: the sensible wife. By sensible, Proverbs means a wife who can truly help her husband. She is not lazy or nagging (cf. Proverbs 19:13), but up building in all she does. She encourages her husband in everything, making him a better man.
Proverbs 14:1 tells us that homes are made by the wisdom of women! You need a woman like that – one who is a home builder. She has the daily task of creating a happy and comfortable place for a family to live. Would the girl you have your eye set on be content to be a "home worker (Titus 2:15)?" This does not mean, of course, that she may not have an education. She may be very highly educated and have all kinds of beautiful abilities. But do you think she sees it as her God-given task after marriage to be "busy at home?" Does she have a positive attitude toward the bearing and raising of children?
You want a woman who is capable. To be a "wise woman" means also to have the necessary skills (or at the very least an eager desire to get those skills!). The wise woman has the know-how for running a home. You want a wife who is able to ensure that the family gets proper and nourishing food, who knows how to clothe her family, who is able to keep her home clean, who is hospitable and kind to others, who has the necessary resolve to discipline and teach little children. You don't want a woman who has always been preoccupied with external matters and who can't think of anything deeper to talk about than some empty-headed TV hero. Such a woman may be beautiful but as a wife she is bound to be a dud! Her presence in your life will be like the continuous leaking of water going drip-drip-drip. She will complain about her job in the household, tell you how bored she is all the time, and generally drive you crazy (Proverbs 19:13). Life would become unbearable, so much so that you'd rather retire to the attic than share your house with her (Proverbs 21:9, 19).
In summary, then, the Bible has high expectations of women. And none of them center on appearance. They have more to do with woman's God-given task of being a help to her husband and of building up a Christian home. Let's conclude with these words:
"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the lord is to be praised."
Let that be the yardstick by which young men measure women.