by James Snare*
‘Who can find a capable wife? She is far more precious than jewels.’ (Proverbs 31:10)
Who a man chooses to marry is a wisdom issue. It has been noted that ‘most people spend far more time in preparation for their vocation than they do in preparation for marriage’. Part of this lack of preparation is a general lack of awareness about the specific advice the bible gives as to the type of woman a wise man should pursue for a wife. In the midst of a pornified culture that has an overly romantic worldview about relationships it is vital that men understand how to recognise a woman who is more precious than jewels.
What does the bible say about the type of woman a wise man should and should not pursue? The book of proverbs offers the most specific commentary on the topic. On the negative side, evil and seductive women should be avoided (Prov 6:23-26) and it’s noted that living with a quarrelsome woman is a painful experience (Prov 19:13, 21:9, 21:19). Beauty is not a bad thing but it is fading. Proverbs 31:30 says ‘Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.’ The bible is not against physical attraction and rejoicing in a woman’s beauty is portrayed as a good thing (Song 4:7) but physical beauty fades. The wise counsel of scripture to single men is that physical beauty should only be part of a person’s appeal. This is incredibly important to remember in a world where Hollywood and advertising presents a false and unrealistic expectation of physical beauty as normal.
Men need to see physical beauty as only part of what makes a woman attractive. While not specifically speaking to human beauty Michael Hill distinguishes between what we can see externally (the outer nature) and what we cannot see internally (the inner nature). This is the division that he argues the biblical writers used as their functional view of persons. For example he cites Paul’s words that, ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day’ (2 Cor 4:16). Just as the biblical writers saw a ‘whole’ person, single men need to have a holistic view of a person’s beauty and attractiveness. This is the type of beauty that scripture encourages women to cultivate – a beauty consisting of what is inside the heart rather than external ornaments. (1 Peter 3:3-4) Men sin against their sisters in Christ when they overemphasise physical beauty and tempt their sisters to pursue external adornment instead of hearts devoted to the Lord.
The Book of Proverbs gives examples of specific characteristics that men should esteem in a prospective spouse. The first is graciousness (Prov 11:16), the second is industriousness (Prov 14:1), the third is sensibleness or prudence (Prov 19:14) and the fourth is faithfulness (Prov 31:11). Indeed, Proverbs 31 as a whole can be taken as describing the characteristic of faithfulness. Alongside these sit the New Testament’s commendation of characteristics like submissiveness (a woman’s willingness to follow her husband’s lead – 1 Peter 3:1, Eph 5:22-23), a ‘gentle and quiet spirit’ (1 Peter 3:3-4), not being a slanderer, being self-controlled (1 Tim 3:11), being reverent, and not being a drunkard (1 Titus 2:3). These are the type characteristics of a woman that a single man should be considering when looking for a woman to be yoked to in order to serve the Lord.
What is lacking from both the wisdom of Proverbs and the New Testament is any consideration of what we might today call ‘personality’ traits, or the idea of complimentary temperaments and interests. Part of this is undoubtedly the nature of courtship in the ancient world where marriages were arranged by parents. In our culture it is not wrong to consider whether a person’s personality is complimentary but this must be held much more lightly than the qualities esteemed by Scripture. A single man should therefore be wary about elevating particular personality types or shared interests to too high a standing in their consideration of who would make a good wife. It is not simply a matter of identifying a woman you feel you are compatible with and then identifying if her godliness is sufficient. Rather a man should seek first a woman whose character adorns her and let that attract him before much more lightly considering her unique personalities and physical appeal.
Marriage is, at times, harder than most single people can imagine. Two sinners bound in such intimacy cannot help but produce intense friction. In those times, the character and qualities esteemed by scripture in a woman will be the most valuable asset outside of the grace of Christ to help a man successfully lead a couple through. Single men need to be aware of this to help them make wise choices about who they seek to marry.
*James is in 2nd Year at Moore Theological College in Sydney. This post started out as an essay for Ministry & Mission. He has been married to Fi for 9 years and they have two children, Lily and Daniel. He loves comic books and coffee and Jesus. Not in that order.