Melanie Mansfield » Along the Road: A theological journey shared

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  • This blog was specifically created with my four children in mind. It's not a site for kids, though there may be bits and pieces that can be shared with them as they grow. It's a place for me to reveal the things that I study and learn as I walk my theological journey. It's something for them to have as they make their own way down the road with Christ. Should others want to read and make note (or ask questions) as I go, would just be icing on the cake! The primary focus, however, is that in the years to come, there's a place where those I've been given a spiritual role over which to teach can find my thoughts recorded for them to see and digest.

    The title of the blog, "Along the Road", is taken from Deuteronomy 6:6-7, when the LORD told the Israelites, "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Of course, He was speaking about the Law given to Moses, but ultimately, it echos His call to all parents for all time... to teach their children all that they know about God. It's my hope to be faithful to that call.

    So, walk with me along the road! I love company. -Melanie Mansfield

WHERE TO FIND THE PROVERBS 31 WIFE…

I was laying in bed the other night, thinking. I do a lot of that in the middle of the night because I’m a life-long insomniac. Also, with four kids, it’s about the only time I can get completely through a thought without being… “Hey, mama!”  So, as I was laying there thinking about the Bride of Christ (likely because of the previous posting), my mind wandered to thinking about regular old wives, of which I’m one. I don’t think you can be a Christian woman and not immediately think of Proverbs 31 when that topic hits you. We’ve been taught that it’s a biblical record of the perfect wife written by the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon. There are a lot of jokes that run throughout female circles concerning this woman… how we could do what she does if we had maidservants, too, or wondering where our beautiful purple clothing is (I look awesome in purple, by the way)… the list of comparisons is long and often funny.

But for me, honestly, I’ve always felt belittled by her. I’ve thought about hunting Solomon down as soon as I enter heaven and asking him what the big idea was. Couldn’t a noble wife have been just a LITTLE bit more realistic? Of course, being blinded by God’s glory would likely stop me in my tracks before even remembering my not-so-wise intentions (see what I did there?)… and that would be a good thing. Because as I lay in bed the other night, something else crossed my mind. What if the wife of noble character that’s being sought after… and stay with me here… isn’t really an actual woman? What if Solomon, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, was initially writing about the Bride of Yahweh (Israel/Jer. 31:32) and thus, by extension, the Bride of Christ?

A flood of joy washed over me as I pondered this. No longer would the verses in question be about one woman seemingly taking on the world, but about one Body, Christ’s bride, accomplishing the good works that were set-apart for Her — works both within and without of Her family. Let’s look at the passage as a refresher before continuing:

Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
    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.

There are a few things that we need to note before dissecting the passage. First, it’s a acrostic poem. An amazing one, at that. Each line begins with a different letter from the Hebraic alphabet. Obviously, we lose that beauty in the translation, but it’s there, none-the-less. Knowing that it’s a poem allows my mind to think beyond the literal and move into the figurative, without it being bad hermeneutics. Not that I would have to read it figuratively, but that I could. At this point, that’s a good start for the thoughts that I’m trying to gather.

Another thing to note is that this is the epilogue to the entire book of Proverbs. It’s not just for this chapter, and it’s not an extension of King Lemuel’s mother’s words of wisdom to her son. It’s the ending summation, so to speak. The word “epilogue” is defined as, “the end of a story that often serves to reveal the fates of the characters.” In contrast, the “prologue” (which Proverbs also has) is defined  as “an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details.” Let’s look at that portion, too.

Prologue: Exhortations to Embrace Wisdom

10 My son, if sinful men entice you,
    do not give in to them.
11 If they say, “Come along with us;
    let’s lie in wait for innocent blood,
    let’s ambush some harmless soul;
12 let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we will get all sorts of valuable things
    and fill our houses with plunder;
14 cast lots with us;
    we will all share the loot”—
15 my son, do not go along with them,
    do not set foot on their paths;
16 for their feet rush into evil,
    they are swift to shed blood.
17 How useless to spread a net
    where every bird can see it!
18 These men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they ambush only themselves!
19 Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
    it takes away the life of those who get it.

If a prologue sets the scene and the epilogue reveals the fate of the characters, what do we see happening in Solomon’s book of Proverbs? What does the opening show us? What does the closing offer us? Were we to accept the literal interpretation of the epilogue in chapter 31, would we not then be inclined to discern that the entirety of Proverbs could be summed up in finding a good woman to marry? Is that what Solomon wanted to teach? Or could it be that if we backed further away from the text, we could see more in there on which to chew? Or am I just hungry?;)

Let’s break it down starting with the prologue. When I look at it, I’m immediately able to see that the writer is trying to convince his children to stay away from sinful men, in whatever form they approach. He warns that they entice, and Solomon shows us all the ways in which the sinful could spend their time. Specifically, we can note that a sinful man lies in wait, he ambushes the harmless, he desires to steal, to plunder, to cast lots. In other words, as the last verse of the prologue states, his days are spent in ill-gotten gain. Nothing that was mentioned in the passage denotes anything honorable; everything was ill-gotten.

The body of Proverbs is filled with instructions on being wise and avoiding folly. It covers more topics than I could list here (but look at the handy-dandy link I’ve provided!). That’s pretty comprehensive. Way to go, Solomon! There’s more meat in those chapters than we can digest all at once. This book is meant to be feasted on for a lifetime! The building of character that it encourages can’t be matched. From what to speak to when to work and how to eat, it’s all there. But that’s a different post for another day.

After all of that, we arrive at the epilogue… the wife that many women have grown to despise because of her seemingly superhuman abilities… or revere because of her steadfast determination. Yet in context with the prologue, and with poetic license in mind, can we see something besides an individual woman accomplishing all of this? If the prologue sets up exactly what Solomon wants us to avoid (a life of sin) and the following chapters teach us how to be wise, could the epilogue then show us what all of that might look like, were it to be seen in one place? Is this not what God was intending for Israel? Was their purpose not to be a shining star that announced the glory of God through the mighty acts accomplished through and for one small nation? Were they not His bride? Then, as the heirs to the spiritual blessings of Abraham,  is this not how we, the Church, are supposed to look? Together, as one Body, set on the Wisdom of Ages, we are able to be a city on a hill, a Bride that can accomplish the impossible with the power of her God.

Read the passage again… can you see how the Body of Christ would be able to do the things that are mentioned? Taking care of the family, the needy and the poor, being good stewards, being clothed in dignity, working day and night (thanks to time zones! Haha), speaking with wisdom and giving faithful instruction, eager to do whatever is necessary. One woman could never be in this constant state of “doing”, but one Church could. One Church that was also the Bride of the One True God.

If the prologue to Proverbs gives us insight into the life of the unwise,
it’s fitting that the epilogue would give us insight into the life of the wise.

Ironically, though not really, all of the things mentioned in the epilogue are repeated in the New Testament as parts of the role of the Body of Christ. I believe that we can narrow the New Testament role of the church AND the epilogue of Proverbs down to three subjects: Edification, Benevolence & Evangelism.

1. Edification: Scripturally, the word used for edification in the New Testament means to “build a house” (oikodomeo). There’s a great article already written that goes into detail about the verses that speak toward this topic. You can read that here for more information. But the point that I want to make is that we are called to build up the church through various ways (both individually and corporately). These include instruction on Christ-likeness as well as actually taking care of the physical needs of the Body. Whatever it takes to care for the members is part of the edification process. Proverbs 31 mentions these aspects of living.

2. Benevolence: This is defined as an act of kindness or charity. Basically, it’s taking care of those who are outside of the church as well. The needy, the poor, the hurt and broken around us fall into this category. Again, both the New Testament and Proverbs 31 speak of these things (you can look up Matthew 19:21, 1 John 3:17-18).

3. Evangelism: This, of course, seems most obvious. We were given the Great Commission to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:16-20). This one takes a poetic eye to locate in the Proverbs epilogue, but it’s there! I believe that verse 16 speaks to this when it says that she “plants a vineyard” from her earnings. Our reward is in Christ, and it’s through him that we are able to evangelize and bring forth a harvest. The New Testament talks of evangelizing as harvesting (John 4:35) and often calls the Body to be workers in the field (Matthew 9:35-38).

Having said all of this (let’s make this my epilogue), can Proverbs 31 give encouragement to a specific wife in a specific home on this specific planet? Of course! All scripture is useful for encouragement in our walk with the Lord. Can we, however, take this passage to mean that wives are to follow this poetic example? Should her sink never hold a dirty dish? Should her light remain on through the night? Should she be growing her own food and eating lunch standing up because there’s no time to sit? Is this what it means to be a noble wife to an earthly man? I struggle to believe that could ever be the case. However, I most certainly believe that the Bride of Christ is called to a 24/7 role of edification, benevolence and evangelism. I believe that we are to be seen as ever-working, above reproach and in a constant state of Christ-likeness as we await our Groom’s return. THAT is what brings me joy — the idea that I’m not alone in this working, that I’m only one part of the entire Body that Jesus has purposed to bring all things together under Him. THIS is a Bride that I can be! It’s a bride we can ALL be… men and woman alike!:)

DON’T TALK TO MY WIFE LIKE THAT…

I remember talking to a friend of mine one day, who was telling me about the time her daughter snapped at her. Before the argument could get any bigger, the dad looked the teen in the eye and said, “Don’t talk to my wife like that”. It was a defining moment for their relationships. Not only was his teenager reminded of the fact that she was speaking to her mother, but also to her father’s wife. In that one sentence, he made it clear that he would defend his spouse against those who would disrespect her… even if it was his own child doing the disrespecting.

Today, there’s a similar problem going on in the Church. People are constantly berating and belittling the institution as a whole, and I feel like I can hear Jesus saying, “don’t talk to my wife like that”. We are, after all, His bride. And some of the loudest talk is coming from God’s own children. Ultimately, I know that many mean well, but it’s coming out more in the form of disrespect. I’ve thought about this for a long while, and there’s one thing I keep going back to as a possible reason for the miscommunication that happens within our Family. I think a lot of us just don’t understand what the road to Heaven looks like for Believers… for the Bride. And this lack of comprehension leads to frustration that eventually gets vented out in, often times, inappropriate ways.

There are two words that are vitally important to the Christian vocabulary:

1. Justification
2. Sanctification

In these two words are the whole of our earthly existence, as well as the bumpy path that leads to eternity. The first puts us in right-standing with God; it makes us, at once, a son or daughter of the King. Justification is the process by which the unrighteous are made righteous through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. In that moment, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and are fully HIS. It does not, however, make us perfect humans. It doesn’t take away our propensity to sin or our struggle against it. Sometimes it seems as though we forget that there’s more to it than justification; salvation is a two-sided coin.

The other side is sanctification. This is the process of being “set apart”. The new Christian is now in a state of being separated from the world they know… the world of “self”. This? Is a really long process. While God, viewing us through the sacrifice of Christ, sees us as “holy and blameless” (Ephesians 1), we are, in reality, still a sinful people. Every day is a battle to walk more closely with God, to allow Him to set us apart for His holy purposes. Some days are better than others. It’s an uphill climb that often times falls into deep valleys before starting yet another ascent… lather, rinse, repeat. When Paul told the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, this is the part of the coin to which he was referring. He was admonishing them to actively pursue obedience in Christ, not just while he was with them, but even more so in his absence. To be sure, he follows up with acknowledgment that it is God who is doing the work in them, by willing them to His purposes.

Back to my story of disrespecting the bride…

It is during this process of sanctification, which is at a different pace for each Believer, that individual members of the Church get exasperated with, well… the Church. But in our exasperation, we are at risk of talking to and about Jesus’ bride in a way that tears her down, instead of building her up. We should never lose sight of the fact that the universal Church was instituted by God. Not only are we the bride of Christ that will be presented to the Father, glorified, in eternity, but we are also humans in the process of that glorification. Instead of screaming that the Church is hypocritical, racist, rude, elitist and ugly, we should focus on how she is still in the process of being set apart. During this time, mistakes will be made on individual levels, but there will also be amazing things accomplished. And sometimes… SOMETIMES… a few of those things that you see as “mistakes” (that make you irate), may actually be things that are perfectly holy, and you’re the one who is missing the point. Think back to the snapping teenager who felt that her mother was being ridiculous and mean, when in reality, it was exactly what was best for the situation at hand.

Regardless of the circumstance, negative or positive, our hearts need to be set on love. We need to see the Church for the beautiful bride she is becoming. We need to speak to her with respect and do our best to raise her up to others, instead of ripping her apart. There are enough people outside of Christianity who attempt to do damage to her reputation without us adding to it. When we see errors, we should kindly correct them. When we see something to be honored, we should acknowledge it. But above all, we should love and respect the bride of Christ. He loved her so much that He gave Himself up for her.

“…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church–  for we are members of his body.” -Ephesians 5:25-30

Jeffrey HoltonMarch 30, 2014 - 3:04 am

Hm. I can think of somebody I’d like to say that to. In both contexts. Simultaneously.

IN THE BEGINNING…

Theology… the study of God. There is no higher pursuit in the world.

I recently saw an article about the most impressive images received from the Hubble telescope… images that were taken from hundreds of thousands of light years away. They were truly mind-blowing. One in particular stood out to me as simply amazing. I stared at it for a long while, looking at the vastness of what was captured, taking in the intricacies of the details. There was vibrant light mixed in with intense darkness. The colors were rich and gave what was already an astonishing existence something even more breath-taking. I was simply blown away.

Then I began reading the comments. It wasn’t too far down the line until I saw someone mention that the color we see in the images is artificial. It’s a human rendering. The Hubble site explains it this way: “The colors in Hubble images, which are assigned for various reasons, aren’t always what we’d see if we were able to visit the imaged objects in a spacecraft. We often use color as a tool, whether it is to enhance an object’s detail or to visualize what ordinarily could never be seen by the human eye… Creating color images out of the original black-and-white exposures is equal parts art and science. We use color to depict how an object might look to us if our eyes were as powerful as Hubble, to visualize features of an object that would ordinarily be invisible to the human eye and to bring out an object’s subtle details.”

While I was a tiny bit disappointed that I wasn’t seeing the actual celestial entity as it truly was, I also understood that the artistic/scientific rendering probably didn’t even come close to the beauty that was its reality. Seeing a black and white picture of something far away in space is as close as we can get to the truth of its existence. The color scientists use to enhance what we see can give us a bit more insight, but can never be complete in what it shows us. Not until we’re standing in a distant galaxy’s very presence will ever be able to grasp the intensity of what the Hubble shows us as a muted picture. But until then, we can still strive to understand as much as we can, shading and coloring it to “bring out the subtle details”.

It’s exactly the same with theology.

Humans can study God in a myriad of ways. And while there will be things that we can see in full color, because He’s made them abundantly clear, the majority of His nature will be more like the black and white Hubble images, understandable in as much as has been revealed, but still a mystery in regards to His fullness. Yet just as scientists continue to try and figure out the universe, so do we seek to try and understand God. As a Believer, my primary way of accomplishing this is through the Scriptures that have been given to us. Within that frame of reference, there is also reason and experience, but neither of those overtake the Bible that I view to be inspired by the very One I’m so desperately trying to comprehend. At times, I may color things to bring out subtle details, but just as scientists are attempting to be as true to what they know as possible, my “artist’s rendering” will also be what I feel is remaining true to what is found in the pages of the Word. There is room for me to make mistakes… but my heart is set on uncovering the ultimate reality of God. I won’t know for certain how close my studies brought me until the day I see Him face-to-face, but I know that in the meantime, there is no higher thought that that which is centered on Him.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” -I Corinthians 13:12

BethMarch 28, 2014 - 8:18 pm

Great comparison, loved the read. Excited for more :)

melanieMarch 29, 2014 - 3:47 am

Thank you, friend. :)

JeffyMarch 29, 2014 - 6:18 am

So good. I’m proud of you, and I look forward to reading more!