Heroic Femininity

Heroic Femininity

Unlocking the Secret to Proverbs 31 Womanhood

by Leslie Ludy | November 15, 2014

When I was first married, I wasn’t a huge fan of the larger-than-life example of womanhood portrayed in Proverbs 31. Getting up before dawn to “seek wool and flax and work eagerly with my hands” just didn’t sound very appealing, and I felt overwhelmed by the image of a domestic diva whose plate was so full that it seemed she never got any rest at all.

Over the years, I’ve been around countless Christian women who shared those sentiments.

“I’ll become the Proverbs 31 woman just as soon as I get all those Proverbs 31 maids!” a young wife once jokingly told me.

“I’m so sick and tired of hearing about becoming a godly Proverbs 31 woman!” another young woman said. “There is no way I would ever measure up to that standard, and I’m not even going to try.”

It seems that in recent years, Christian femininity has decided to boycott heroic womanhood—especially when it comes in the form of the “stay-at-home supermom” portrayed in Proverbs 31. I have been around quite a few Christian influencers who have made it a rule to avoid Proverbs 31, because it seems to automatically put unhealthy pressure on today’s women.

In a world that is constantly telling us “you’ll never be good enough,” we squirm at a Biblical message that holds us to another seemingly impossible standard. As women, we are tired of hearing about all the ways we don’t measure up, and Proverbs 31 seems to only rub salt on a painful wound.

It’s easy to just roll our eyes at Proverbs 31 and assume that there is some vague, allegorical reason why it was included in the Bible and that we shouldn’t be expected to apply its message to our daily lives. But a few years ago, I made some surprising discoveries about Proverbs 31 that shifted my perspective dramatically.

“Who can find a virtuous woman?” it says in verse 10. The word “virtuous” often conjures up images of a mousy woman who spends her days knitting in a rocking chair. But the word "virtuous" in this context is anything but “mousy”! Believe it or not, “virtuous woman” actually comes from a masculine noun that means “strength, might, valor, and power.” In other words, a “virtuous woman” is a mighty, valiant, valorous woman full of strength and conquering power. It’s the very same word that is used to describe the valiance of David when the Lord chose him to be Israel’s mighty king: “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is…a mighty man of valor, a man of war…and the Lord is with him” (1 Sam. 16:18-19).

David’s mighty valor was unmatched. His power was superhuman. As a boy he killed lions and bears with his bare hands and single-handedly slew the greatest giant in the land. As a man, he valiantly led armies into battle and annihilated all the enemies of the Lord.

It’s this very same heroic valor that marks the Proverbs 31 woman. She has superhuman strength. She has unmatched valor. She valiantly stomps out whatever stands in the way of God’s purposes. Nothing hinders her. Her life is a living display of triumph, victory, and the glory of God.

Incredibly, the chief word used to describe the Proverbs 31 woman is the word strength. It’s mentioned no less than three times throughout the chapter, in addition to the “virtuous, valiant” opening description.

And by the way, the Proverbs 31 woman does a lot more than prepare food and embroider fine linen. A closer study of her life reminds me of the set-apart women of history past; women like Gladys Aylward, Amy Carmichael, Catherine Booth, and Elizabeth Fry—women who sacrificially poured-out their lives for the poor, who rescued the oppressed from their enemies, who set captives free, and who transformed entire countries by their valiant, living testimony of God’s power. 

Here are some of the amazing characteristics that mark the heroic femininity outlined in Proverbs 31:

She lives faithfully for her husband, even before she meets him (31:12).
She has a rich supply of resources (31:14). She is a diligent and excellent leader (31:15).
She is an excellent businesswoman (31:16, 24).
She is physically strong, and is continually gaining strength (31:17).
She is energetic and fulfilled in her work (31:18).
She is a rescuer of the weak (31:20).
She is fearless (31:21).
She is dignified and dressed like royalty (31:22, 25).
She helps her husband gain honor and respect (31:23).
She is an excellent teacher and speaker (31:26).
She garners praise and respect from others (31:28-30).
She fears God (31:30). She has a fruitful life and a stellar reputation (31:31).

This is certainly not a weak, timid, overwhelmed, exhausted, or frazzled specimen of femininity! Rather, Proverbs 31 describes the most incredible picture of triumphant, womanly strength in the entire Bible. The Proverbs 31 woman lives a miraculous, superhuman, victorious, amazing, fulfilling, poured-out life. She is stunningly beautiful, dignified, and strong—stronger than every other woman around her.

How does she accomplish something so astounding?

The secret to her heroic femininity does not lie within herself. Instead, she relies on a power wholly not her own. Just like David, her strength comes from God, and God alone. David expressed it this way:

You are my lamp, O Lord; The Lord shall enlighten my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop; by my God I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? God is my strength and power, and He makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer. And sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to make war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your gentleness has made me great (2 Sam. 22:29-36).

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Because of the power of God, David was able to accomplish things that a mere human never could. This is the secret to heroic femininity. We are called to live a superhuman life; to live an existence that other women would never attempt. But we are not called to do this in our own strength, because it is impossible. The power to fulfill the high calling upon our life was purchased by the blood of our heroic King.

Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies (Prov. 31:10).

Just think about what a powerful analogy that is. Jesus paid the ultimate price for His Bride—He bought us with His blood, so much more precious than rubies. And this purchase was not just for the forgiveness of our sins, but to enable us to live a valiant, triumphant life that we could never live on our own; a life that truly showcases His stunning beauty, strength, and glory.

Instead of just rolling our eyes at Proverbs 31 and dismissing it as an impossible standard, it’s time we recognize and embrace the supernatural power that Christ provides to equip us to live a triumphant, victorious, valiant life; a life that literally shocks this world around us.

If you are ready to respond to this sacred and beautiful calling, here are some first steps: 

1. Come to the Cross

Becoming a heroic, Proverbs 31 woman does not come through striving, but through surrender.

Only the transforming power of Jesus Christ can enable us to live a victorious life. Therefore, we must exchange our self-effort for complete reliance upon Him. Corrie ten Boom articulated this well with her statement, “When I try, I fail. When I trust, He succeeds.”

Many Christians have come to the conclusion that the epic visions of triumph and victory presented in Scripture are nothing more than poetic-sounding, larger-than-life ideals—sort of like those inspirational posters we see at the doctor’s office or gym. We may be mentally motivated or emotionally moved by the beautiful promises and righteous standards presented in the Bible, but not many of us expect to live them out in everyday life—at least not on a consistent basis.

Several popular Christian books have been published in recent years with the sole purpose of assuring us that the lofty promises and standards of the Bible aren’t truly achievable, so we should all stop feeling guilty about not personally attaining them. But God does not give us instructions that He won’t enable us to carry out. If He said it, and He cannot lie, then what more is there to argue or discuss? Our God doesn’t tease us by making promises to us that He doesn’t intend to fulfill (see Num. 23:19).

So where does the discrepancy come in? Why is there such a big gap between the majesty of Scripture, and the oft-mediocre reality of our daily lives?

The answer is simple: we have lost our understanding of the power of the Cross. The message of the Cross is much more than simply knowing and believing the Truth. It also means being supernaturally equipped by God’s enabling grace to live a victorious life that would otherwise be impossible. When we try to rise up to God’s standards without truly understanding the power of the Cross or the enabling power of God, we run smack into a brick wall of failure and disillusionment. But when we are transformed and equipped by God’s enabling grace, we can confidently declare along with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

So rather than making a checklist of all the things we must somehow achieve in order to be the women God has called us to be, we must instead lay our lives at the foot of the Cross without reserve, holding nothing back. God doesn’t need human talent or merit in order to build a heroic Christian woman. Rather, He simply needs a fully surrendered heart who is ready to become a conduit of His divine power.

Still not sure? Take some time to study the lives of women throughout history who have dramatically impacted the world for the Kingdom of God—women like Elizabeth Fry, Catherine Booth, Mary Slessor, Corrie ten Boom, and Gladys Aylward. Notice that it wasn’t their own accomplishments, efforts, or qualifications that enabled them to be world-changers for the Gospel. Rather, it was their simple childlike faith in a big God, and their absolute whole-hearted surrender to Him. 

You don’t need to muster up the strength to live a Proverbs 31 life. You simply need to come to the Cross of Jesus Christ and lay your life at His feet.

2. Gain God’s Vision for Femininity

I used to feel suffocated by Proverbs 31 because many Christians in my life had shrouded those verses with their own opinions and ideas of what a godly, virtuous woman was supposed to look like. Somehow, through various teachings and discussions I heard about Proverbs 31, I got the impression that a truly godly woman was one who spent most of her time dutifully doing her husband’s laundry but never really having her own impact upon the world. In fact, it seemed that if a woman ever made a significant impact upon the world (outside of her own family), she was somehow “out of her place” and not really following God’s pattern.

But that is not what Proverbs 31 teaches. Yes, a married woman is certainly called to serve her husband and kids. Raising kids and guiding the home is a high priority in God’s Kingdom. But it is not the only priority. In fact, raising children is just one of the heroic things that the Proverbs 31 woman does. She also reaches out to the poor and stretches out her hands to the needy. She is a leader in her community. She teaches others about Him. She diligently sows and reaps for the Kingdom of God.

The “virtuous widow” described in 1 Timothy 5:10 is similar. Bringing up children is one of the qualities that marks her godly life. But she also excels in good works, lodging strangers, washing the saints' feet, and relieving the afflicted. Her life is an example of world-changing, heroic femininity.

Elizabeth Fry had eleven children and Catherine Booth had eight. They were amazing mothers and guiders of their homes. And yet they radically poured out their lives for the oppressed and needy, to the point that entire nations were radically altered and millions came into God’s Kingdom because of their heroic lives.

It is significant to me that the first person Jesus appeared to after His resurrection was a woman, and the first thing that He commissioned her to do was to go and boldly proclaim a message of hope to others (see John 20:17). He could have chosen a man to deliver the joyous news of His resurrection, but He chose a woman. He seemed to be highlighting an amazing accomplishment of the Cross: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26, 28). This certainly doesn’t negate the importance of a married woman honoring her husband’s position as the head of the family or being an excellent “keeper of the home.” However, it definitely showcases that a woman’s significance in the Kingdom of God extends far beyond the role of merely homemaker and wife.

Whether you are single or married, God has a significant purpose for your life as a woman in His Kingdom—and that purpose includes proclaiming the Gospel in this lost world, and becoming His hands and feet to those in need of a Rescuer. So if you have felt stifled by the common portrayal of Proverbs 31 that limits what God can do through a woman’s life, it’s time to gain a God-sized vision for femininity! Study the world-changing women of the Bible, including Sarah, Esther, Ruth, Deborah, Rahab, Elizabeth, Mary, Lydia, Tabitha, Lois, Eunice, and many others. Read Proverbs 31 with fresh eyes, and discover what God can do through a woman who is fully yielded to Him!