Wisdom Verses the Law on Women’s Issues

In an article posted at Desiring God today, I wrote about my journey to understand Scripture’s instructions to women through the lens of the gospel. Apart from the gospel, the law kills. Presenting instructions to women apart from a thorough fleshing out of the gospel sets women up for failure, and I have sat under much teaching and read many books that do that very thing. In fact, I have myself done this very thing to others.

Furthermore, among the books I read and teachers I heard, I wasn’t just presented with the law, I was also often presented with the teacher’s personal application of the law. I’d like to think I haven’t done this myself, though I probably have. But I have had a conviction since I was a teenager that Scripture was sufficient—sufficient in what it says is wrong and sufficient in what it says is right—and have tried to let that conviction constrain me in anything I might project onto others.

The law says tithe, but the legalist pressures others to tithe their spice rack. And that’s exactly what has happened in many presentations on women’s issues. As a new wife, I felt constrained by other’s applications for their families of general Bible principles. My husband finally had to tell me point blank, “Honey, I don’t NEED that.” I was stressed over color coordinated, organic meals when he just needed clean socks. I was greeting him in a state of anxious self-condemnation over the clutter in our home when he is actually more comfortable IN clutter than in a precisely organized room. But no one clarified for me the difference in general Bible principles and personal application.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend over brunch a few weeks ago. This is a friend who regularly gets provoked on a topic on which she has a passion. I have learned that when she starts, I need to grab a pen and paper and start taking notes, because her thoughts are usually quite profound. Such was the case when I brought up my struggle at times to figure out what choices on many different fronts were best for our family.

She pointed out Christians’ confusion at times over the difference in wisdom and law, Proverbs and the Ten Commandments. There are no opposite laws, but we are all familiar with opposite proverbs. “Look before you leap” verses “He who hesitates is lost.” Or for a Biblical example, consider Proverbs 26:4-5.

4 Answer not a fool according to his folly,
   lest you be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
   lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Wisdom is not law. And wisdom is only wise when applied correctly in the right situations. You can’t read Proverbs the same as the 10 Commandments, yet in our fight against moral relativism, conservative Christians fear situational wisdom. The result is silly, one-dimensional conclusions.

The answer to our fears of moral relativism as we apply wisdom in ways that are actually wise is the indwelling Spirit. Yet, we are suspicious of Him. Wouldn’t we all rather spend 3 years in person at Jesus’ feet as did Peter? Yet compare Peter after 3 years in Jesus’ presence with Peter after 3 years of the indwelling Holy Spirit. As Jesus Himself says, it was better for Peter, resulting in greater growth and maturity in his life, that the Spirit indwell him than he continue to sit in person at Jesus’ feet. It’s a profound concept.

Paul exhorts us in Galatians 5:16 to “walk by the Spirit,” which literally means to “keep in step with the Spirit.” It is this pressing into God via the Spirit that equips us to apply wisdom in wise ways without fear of moral relativism. It equips us to distinguish principle from application and to know what application God has for us as opposed to what He has for the zealous teacher at a women’s conference. Remember that you have something BETTER than sitting at the feet of Jesus. And He will teach you well.

John 16 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: … 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,

12 Responses to Wisdom Verses the Law on Women’s Issues

  1. Lacinda April 6, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    This is just what I needed to hear today. Thank you!

  2. L April 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    “I was stressed over color coordinated, organic meals when he just needed clean socks. I was greeting him in a state of anxious self-condemnation over the clutter in our home when he is actually more comfortable IN clutter than in a precisely organized room. ” I have so been there!

    I have come to the conviction over time that our role as Christian wives cannot be separated from the fact that God designed us to be our own husband's helper! My husband is different from the husbands of women who have written books on this stuff – what works in their homes might not be best in mine. Even submission and headship should look practically different in various marriages.

    We truly do have something better than sitting at the feet of Jesus. What a gracious truth.

  3. Wenatchee the Hatchet April 6, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    I meant to write a short comment but it turned into something very long. While I'm neither married nor a parent I have been mulling over how Christians use the wisdom literature for a while. It strikes me that the fear of the Lord is the real goal of the wisdom literature but we read “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”; assume, quite wrongly, that “Well, hey, I fear the Lord so I can begin to be wise.”; and then in our lack of reverence for the msytery of God's providence run headlong into Job's comforter theology while thinking we're not doing that.

    Your friend's observation about conflicting proverbs has been much on my mind the last few years, Wendy. 🙂 I would say that's the only way to make sense of Ecclesiastes, as an overview of the Preacher's realization of how much proverbs can conflict. Despite confessions in both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes that real wisdom just can't be attained we tell ourselves we'll get it. Christ is the wisdom of God but often that is not the kind of wisdom we want so much as rules for avoiding disaster.

  4. Surprised Rach April 6, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    Thank you for reminding me of this truth 🙂

  5. Virginia Is For Mothers April 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    “Wisdom is not law. And wisdom is only wise when applied correctly in the right situations”

    What a great distinction! We feel like we need a set of rules when we really just need wisdom and the Holy Spirit to guide us in applying wisdom correctly. I've been studying Proverbs with my women's small group so this was the perfect post to read today!

  6. Lilster April 7, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    Excellent! I'm so glad I found you 🙂 Looking forward to reading Practical Theology for Women!

  7. Wendy April 7, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    Thanks for your comments, all! WtH, that was Annette H at Grace. If you ever have a chance to pick her brain, do. She has a lot of wisdom.

  8. Anonymous April 8, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    Thanks. And ever thanking God for His Enduring Word and Indescribable Gift! The Spirit gives life and peace! In this realm,with minds set on what the Spirit desires,we are empowered in our daily choices to be victorious, overcoming the world to be like Jesus,that we have confidence on the day of judgment (1 Jn 4:13). May He help us to be proven faithful and whatever happens, conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ standing firm in one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel(1 Cor 4:1b-2,Phil 1:27).

  9. lifeinreturn April 9, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    Thank you for sharing what you did on the DG post. My sweetheart emailed me that post and I found myself agreeing and nodding my head at various points.

    And thank you for this post as well. I just now found out about your blog via the DG article and will be tuning in regularly. I've also linked you on my site. I love seeing women dig into the Scriptures! It's a passion of mine and I praise God for sisters like you! 🙂

  10. Angela April 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU!! I have spent so much time worrying that I'm not being a “good Christian woman/wife” because I don't do some of the same things that others do. The clarification between principles and personal application was very helpful. Such freedom in Christ!!

  11. Clarice April 13, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Thanks for writing this, Wendy. I recently finished two books by a popular Christian author who seemed to make a couple of laws out of her husband's preferences (ie. ALL men want a CLEAN house and a SHOWERED wife and QUIET children and HOT dinner when they come home…) It really did not serve me and soured much of both books–though I can grow in getting over those little hurdles to appreciate the other good things she wrote. Understanding the Principle vs. Practice distinction is something that we've tried to push as small group leaders for a couple of years now, especially as our peer group becomes marrieds with children. “Mommy-wars” in the Christian community need a healthy dose of this teaching, hm? 🙂

  12. Anonymous May 11, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    I just discovered your blog. Thank-you for this article. It's one more step in healing from our last church situation. You see I love the WORD of GOD…love to inspire women to dig in for themselves. I was doing this in the last church we were in, with what I thought was full approval from the elders. However, the pastors wife had other thoughts. As I taught through the well known womens passages in the Bible I would encourage the women to seek what THEIR husbands wanted, not what some book/author/speaker/pastor's wife/any other wife said they SHOULD do. It was my mantra. The Pastor's wife disagreed with me….when I said “My husband doesn't care about a spotless clean house all the time….he would rather have (such n such) done before a clean house.” Her response was “Well, how do you know that's what he REALLY wants. All men want a clean house.” What it made me do was continually doubt my husband, his honesty, etc. Her preferences were biblical in her mind…so must be thrust on all others. I know I have been this way in the past, but I realize how far from the truth it is.