Women of the Word

Knowledge is power. But the lust for power is not a sound motivation to gain knowledge. The Bible is right: Knowledge puffs up; love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1). 

Even the pursuit of the knowledge of God can become a snare of arrogance. Theology can become a game, a power game to see who can display the most erudition. When it is such a game it proceeds from an unholy passion.

A holy passion is a passion inflamed by a godly motive. To pursue the knowledge of God to further our understanding of Him and deepen our love for Him is to embark on a quest that delights Him. Jesus encouraged such a pursuit (John 8:31–32).

Jesus linked knowledge not with power but with freedom. Knowing the truth is the most liberating power in the world. Not the power to dominate; not the power to impress: These are not the powers we seek. But the power to set free—to give true liberty—is tied to a knowledge of the truth.

We all want liberty. We want to be free of the chains that bind us. That liberty comes from knowing God.

(“Developing a Passion for God,” Tabletalk Magazine)

About Women of the Word

If we’re not conformed to the Word, we’ll be conformed to the world. There are no other options. In Women of the Word posts, you’ll find teaching on big topics like Bible study, theology, or Scripture interpretation delivered in enticingly small packages.

Christmas Isn’t for Snobs

“God chose what is low and despised in the world…”

1 Corinthians 1:28

Through his insightful perspective on the Christmas narrative, Tim Keller provides a convicting reminder that salvation comes to the humble, rather than the haughty… 

Have you ever noticed how women-centric the incarnation and resurrection narratives are? Do you realize that women, not men, are at the very center of these stories?

For example, in the story of the resurrection, who was the only person in the world who knew that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead? Mary Magdelene, a former mental patient, is the one Jesus tells to take this news to the world. Everyone else in the whole world learns it from her. Women are the first people to see Jesus risen from the dead.

In the incarnation, the annunciation comes to a woman. God penetrates the world through the womb of a poor, unwed, Jewish, teenage girl. The first theological reflection group trying to wrap their minds around this to figure out what this means and what is going on is Mary and Elizabeth.

We know that in those days women had a very, very low status. They were marginalized and oppressed. For example, we know that a woman’s testimony was not admissible in court. Why? Because of prejudice against women.

We say to ourselves, aren’t we glad we’re past all that? Yes, but here’s what we have to realize: God is deliberately working with people the world despises. The very first witnesses to his nativity and resurrection are people whom the world says you can’t trust, people the world looks down on.

Because we don’t look down on women today, we don’t look at this part of the story and realize what we’re being told. But here’s what we’re being told: Christmas is the end of snobbishness. Christmas is the end of thinking, Oh, that kind of person.

You don’t despise women, but you despise somebody. (Oh, yes you do!) You may not be a racist, but you certainly despise racists. You may not be a bigot, but you have certain people about which you think, They’re the reason for the problems in the world…

Christmas is the end of thinking you are better than someone else, because Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you. It is telling you that people who are saved are not those who have arisen through their own ability to be what God wants them to be. Salvation comes to those who are willing to admit how weak they are.

[“The Gifts of Christmas,” in Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus]

This Christmas, may we become more like our Savior who never believed He was too good to reach out to the greatest of sinners.

Image: Henry Ossawa Tanner

Hope for Those Lacking Humility

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”

Philippians 2:5

After being slapped upside the head with the painful consequences of my prideful spirit recently, I found the following clip from Mark Driscoll to be especially helpful.

How can we see the giant of pride defeated in our lives? Focusing on humility may not be quite as helpful of a solution as we often think…

Photo: Christopher Bruno

Positively Criminal

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…”

1 Peter 5:5b-6

It’s 3 a.m., and I just finished up four class assignments and sent them whizzing along their way to California. Sometimes I love my biblical counseling program more than at other times. Facing four unfinished assignments at 9 p.m. at night would qualify as one of those moments when my decision to pursue further education seems slightly less charming to me than it used to. Ah, but as soon as the homework is completed, the feelings of love quickly return to my weary frame.

Before I go pillow my sleepy head, I wanted to share with you one of the convicting and challenging thoughts that the Lord has been using to counsel my own sinful heart lately. The following is taken from C.J. Mahaney’s terrific little book Humility:     

Why does God hate pride so passionately?

Here’s why: Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him.

Charles Bridges once noted how pride lifts up one’s heart against God and “contends for supremacy” with Him. That’s a keenly insightful and biblical definition of pride’s essence: contending for supremacy with God, and lifting our hearts against Him…

Pride takes innumerable forms but has only one end: self-glorification. That’s the motive and ultimate purpose of pride–to rob God of legitimate glory and to pursue self-glorification, contending for supremacy with Him. The proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only He is worthy to receive.

No wonder God opposes pride. No wonder He hates pride. Let that truth sink into your thinking.

(pp. 31-32)

Photo: G & A Scholiers

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Practicing Proverbs

“…let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Ephesians 5:33b

When I was young, I remember watching reruns of the old show, The Honeymooners. Even though the show was entertaining and oftentimes very funny, I remember being slightly disturbed, even as a child, at the terribly disrespectful interaction between the lead characters, Ralph and Alice Cramden. If you’ve watched the show, then you’re likely familiar with Ralph’s angry rants and threats as well as Alice’s witty responses. On one occasion, Ralph reminded his wife, “I’m the king, and you’re nothing, Alice!” As usual, Alice remained unruffled as she retorted, “That’s right, Ralph, you’re the king of nothing.”

Things haven’t changed much during the 55 years that have passed since The Honeymooners first began airing. For some reason, it seems that the married couples the American public most enjoys watching are the ones in dysfunctional relationships. Now, more than ever, husbands are regularly portrayed as world-class morons whose skulls were somehow mistakenly filled with oatmeal rather than brain matter. Fortunately, for the men (who remain generally unaware of their tragic plight in life), they are usually accompanied by women who, as the more highly evolved gender, come well-equipped to undo the damage that neanderthalic males perpetually and unintentionally inflict upon themselves and others. 

The wife’s role (if we take Hollywood’s word for it) is to tolerate, correct, clean up after, nag, mock, stand up to, humiliate, and ridicule the man with whom she chose to join in marriage. This distorted image of the feminine influence in the home would be troubling enough if it remained safely confined to a TV screen somewhere. Far more disturbing are the occasions when this beastly role is played out in real marriages and families. 

In today’s chapter of Proverbs, we see an entirely different picture of the part we should play in our husband’s lives, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones” (12:4). The noble or virtuous wife of Proverbs isn’t feistily threatening to crown her husband, she is his crown. In his commentary on Proverbs, biblical scholar Bruce Waltke says, Is the crown connotes that she is her husband’s most prominent social adornment and symbolizes her empowering him to rule.” This brings to mind the Proverbs 31 woman and the critical role she plays in her husband’s achieving high social standing (31:23). As his wise and worthy helper, she assists him in clearing the path to success instead of creating roadblocks through shameful behavior.  

If we could listen in on the speech of the excellent wife in regard to her husband, what do you suppose we would hear? Can you imagine her making jokes about her husband behind his back? Do you suppose she would use her status updates on Facebook to openly complain about him? How often do you imagine she would cut him down not only in private, but also in public? Do you think it’s very likely that she would find opportunities to get back at him by humiliating him in front of his friends?

As women, we’re naturally skilled in the area of communication. Although we would easily be defeated by men in battles of physical strength, we are often well aware of our ability to outmatch them in verbal battles. A shameful wife will make the most of such opportunities by weakening her husband with her critical, disrespectful tongue, much like a decaying disease would weaken his bones. In contrast, the excellent wife will use her words to honor, rather than harm her husband. She will praise, not provoke; revere, rather than revile; and bless instead of blame. 

Such wives are rare commodities in today’s culture. We need God’s grace if we desire to be counted among them. Fortunately for us, His grace is never in short supply.  

Here’s today’s proverb:

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,

but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 12:18

Photo: Jeff Crump

Seasons of Change

Gossip by Norman Rockwell
 
 

For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.      

Proverbs 26:20      

In the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, fall is making its arrival known. As I type away this morning, I do so with slightly chilled fingers, even though I’m bundled in a jacket, jeans, and furry slippers and have already downed one cup of hot Earl Grey tea. The wind has picked up, carrying with it a few falling leaves, and autumn colors are preparing to put on their annual show. I’ve always enjoyed fall and the changing of seasons. I like the fresh start that a new season of the year seems to signal, and this year, I am more ready than usual to see new things come and old things go.      

 I always love summer, and I am sorry to say goodbye to its warmer temperatures (especially when I think of the suffering that my fingers and toes will endure over the coming months!). But, on the other hand, this summer was not one of the most pleasant for me. For that reason, I am ready to watch it fade into memory. The Lord took me through some difficult situations of conflict, hurt, and just plain old confusion over the past few months and through them has taught me some vital lessons. Perhaps the greatest lesson that I will take away from these disagreeable months is this—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21) I have “affectionately” dubbed the summer of 2008 as the Summer of Gossip, after being repeatedly impressed by the destructive force that idle words can wreak as they quietly spread from one person to another. Gossip is so natural, so common, and yet, we rarely consider just how deadly it really is.       

As I think back over my spiritual walk, I can’t remember a time when my problem with gossip wasn’t near the top of my list of prayer needs. If you’re a woman, you can probably relate to my struggle in this area. We enjoy talking…a lot. Since the Bible teaches that an abundance of words usually leads to sin, you can see why our predisposition to flowing conversation will often get us into trouble (Prov. 10:19).           

In my previous post A Hideous Necklace,”  I talked about my battle to identify and overcome pride in my life. I have only recently realized that my lifelong battles with pride and gossip are inseparably linked. Gossip is a bosom buddy to pride—it provides the perfect companion for the sin of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Pride and gossip often walk hand in hand, since a prideful person is constantly sizing up other people and finding them to be lacking. My desire to overcome gossip provides me with even more motivation to seek after the humble spirit which God desires to instill in me. I really believe that as I allow the Holy Spirit to hack away the root of pride in my life that the creeping vines of gossip will also wither and die. Without a prideful spirit feeding my desire to gossip, that little whispering talebearer inside of me will find that she no longer has anything to talk about!      

In addition to seeking after a spirit of humility, if we truly desire to overcome gossip, we must also seek after a spirit of Christlike love. The book of Proverbs talks repeatedly about how a gossip, or a whisperer, or a talebearer repeats what she hears to other people, but I Peter 4:8 says that “love covers a multitude of sins.” When we contrast the actions of a talebearer with the actions of a loving person, we can easily see that our desire to spread gossip is not motivated by love for others. If we truly love those around us, we will zip our lips instead of sharing our “prayer requests” (you know what I’m talking about) with those that don’t need to be involved.       

It’s easy to say that we need to overcome our desire to gossip by developing a spirit of humility and love, but sometimes, it’s still tough to know what gossip is and what it’s not. This is where I usually get hung up. I’ve heard people say, “Gossip is saying anything behind a person’s back that you wouldn’t say to their face.” While that’s probably a good rule to use, I don’t think it’s always true. Sometimes it’s necessary to discuss a problem we’re having with a friend or family member with a third party who can offer us Biblical counsel. It is very easy to cross the line into gossiping in such a situation. So, how do we know whether the words of our mouth are pleasing in God’s sight in these somewhat foggy areas of conversation?      

The other day while I was reading Proverbs, a little light bulb turned on to provide me with some illumination on the topic of gossip. When I think about gossip, I usually focus on wondering, “How can I know when I’ve crossed the line into sinning?” But this should not be the major question in my mind. John Piper once related how he had a discussion with his son regarding a certain type of music that he was listening to. His son asked, “What’s wrong with the music?” John Piper responded, “We do not ask minimalist Christian questions in this house!” The problem with the son’s question was that he had the wrong focus. Our concern as Christians should never be, “What’s wrong with it?” but rather, “What’s right with it?” So it is with the area of gossip. Instead of asking myself the minimalist Christian question, “What’s wrong with talking about this?” I should concentrate instead on finding out what is right, good, or Christ-honoring in discussing the topic on my mind. Ephesians 4:29 provides us with this very practical guideline concerning our conversation, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”       

Following this little light bulb moment, I decided to search through the entire book of Proverbs, making note of every positive descriptive of what our conversation should look like. What I discovered was a helpful guide for the quality of speech for which Christian women should be known.          

The Wise Woman’s Speech Is:
Gentle, soothing, & healing

Restrained, guarded, & timely
Sweet & persuasive
Satisfying & fulfilling
More precious than gold
Righteous & true
Pleasant & pure
Gracious & discerning
True & trustworthy
Instructive to her friends & her children
Defensive of the weak & helpless
A fountain of life to those that hear it

As I say goodbye to the Summer of Gossip, I do so seeking God’s help to meet His standards for acceptable speech in the months and years to come. Trusting God to bring about this long overdue change in my life, I look forward to the fruitful seasons ahead.      

A Hideous Necklace

 “And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah 6:8
  
Last year while I was teaching, I took up a new hobby as a means of releasing some of my 4th grade-related stress through a creative outlet. I visited a jewelry-making shop to handcraft a few Christmas gifts and found myself almost instantly hooked! I was surprised by how thoroughly I enjoyed the process of assembling beads, hooks, and wires to create my own necklace or earring designs . In jewelry-making, I discovered an artform that allowed my creativity to roam freely without the stressful encumbrances which always seem to accompany my painting endeavors.
Since picking up my new hobby, I’ve started to pay more attention to jewelry than ever before. I’m always looking for new design ideas, or trying to figure out exactly how a necklace was assembled, or noting as I peruse the clearance rack, “Hmm…must be where Wilma Flintstone does her jewelry shopping.” One thing I’ve discovered over the past few months of scrutinizing jewelry is that there is a shocking amount of unattractive jewelry on the market that NO ONE would look good wearing!
  
I saw one such piece of jewelry this morning, not in a store or catalogue as you may expect, but rather during my Bible reading in the book of Psalms. In chapter 73, as the writer describes the numerous sins of the wicked, he mentions their jewelry of choice, saying that “pride is their necklace.” What a word picture! I can just imagine some wicked sinner, fastening that abhorrent piece of jewelry around his neck, believing he had chosen the perfect accessory to complement his superior look. But, wait…is it just the wicked that wear the necklace of pride? (Gulp) What’s that I feel around my own neck?If I’m being honest, I’ll have to admit that there are far too many times in life when I’ve attempted to complete my own self-righteous look by wearing a necklace of pride. Time and again, I find myself almost unconsciously looking down on other sinners, praying the well-worn prayer of the Pharisees, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people,” as my fingers caress the smooth feel of my favored necklace. Every once in a while, God shows me an accurate reflection of myself in the mirror of His grace, and I feel horrified at the sight. In those moments, I tear the necklace from my neck and throw it off, sincerely planning to keep it far from me. Unfortunately though, like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings, it won’t be long before I am once again clutching my toxic jewelry close to my heart. Fighting this continual battle with pride, I think I understand Paul’s cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24) I’m so glad that Paul went on to answer his own question, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Even though my battle against pride can at times appear hopeless, I know that victory is possible through Jesus Christ. 
“Humility,” according to C.J. Mahaney in his book on the topic, is “honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” Mahaney points out that we have good reason to pursue humility since Isaiah 66:2 tells us that the person of a humble spirit is the one upon whom God promises to look. As Mahaney says, “Humility draws the gaze of our Sovereign God.” The thought of God looking upon me with pleasure gives me an incredibly powerful motivation to continue pursuing the humility that He desires to see. 

 

   

One problem though, is that pride is so interwoven in my very being that I sometimes find it difficult to recognize it and root it out. The other night, God gave me some very specific help in identifying my prideful tendencies as I read a book called Brokenness by Nancy Leigh Demoss. In it, the author provides a list of 31 characteristics that distinguish the life of a proud Christian from that of a broken Christian. Here are 10 of these characteristics:   

  • Proud people focus on the failures of others and can readily point out those faults. 
  •  Proud people are self-righteous; they think highly of themselves and look down on others.
  • Proud people have to prove that they are right—they have to get the last word.
  • Proud people desire to be known as a success.
  • Proud people have a drive to be recognized and appreciated for their efforts.
  • Proud people are elated by praise and deflated by criticism.
  • Proud people feel confident in how much they know.
  • Proud people are self-conscious; they worry about what others think of them.
  • Proud people can’t bear to fail or for anyone to think they are less than perfect.
  •  Proud people become bitter and resentful when they are wronged.
     

Ouch! Usually I’m terribly excited about getting a perfect score on a test, but somehow this 100% fails to give me cause for celebration. It scares me to see how very far I am from Jesus’ example of loving humility! Even though seeing myself for who I am is not a pleasant experience, I am thankful that God loves me enough to show me my own ugliness and to call me into a deeper love for Him. That’s the key—letting God replace my love for self with a lasting love for Him. As I ask God to give me an accurate perspective of myself in relation to Him, I know that He will begin to bless me with the humility that draws His notice. It’s time for a new wardrobe.    

“…and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,   

 for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD,    

BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”
I Peter 5:5