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Wisdom v. the Law on Women’s Issues

I posted these thoughts a year ago but want to revisit them today.

In an article posted at Desiring God, 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. 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.

Christians historically have confused wisdom and law, Proverbs and the Ten Commandments. For instance, 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 Ten 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 too. 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,

God bless you as you seek His guidance in how to apply general Biblical wisdom to your specific situation without condemnation for how others apply it in theirs.

6 Responses to Wisdom v. the Law on Women’s Issues

  1. Anonymous January 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    so funny & enjoyable-this,from your previous post:(after asking you(Tebow)if you could get me a size large women's NFL Tebow jersey because they are sold out online)!! and now this post brings to mind the beauty of Joy given to us too (Rom 14:17)

  2. judy January 19, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    I recently posted a thought on the bible and marriage which I share here

    Love Judy

  3. Keren Threlfall January 22, 2012 at 3:37 am #

    Thanks for this insightful post. You shouldn't have called it “Wisdom v. the Law on Women's Issues,” though. 🙂 Because there is a lot of wisdom here, and it's on more than just women and women's issues.

    I've been thinking a lot about the sufficiency of Scripture lately, and through the angle which you present that specific application as you did in this post.

  4. Wendy January 22, 2012 at 3:56 am #

    Thanks, Keren!

  5. Ruth in NZ January 22, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    Wendy I again appreciated this post. A few years ago I read a book explaining how to be a “perfect” helpmeet and, while there seemed to be many very biblical ideas in it, I felt very uneasy about it. I think my husband nearly went mad just being a sounding board for me as I tried to figure out what it was that didn't sit well with me. The more I discussed it and read, the more I realised that it was a book which presented a list of things to do, and the motivation of fear to do them. Nowhere was the idea that you couldn't actually meet these expectations (or God's desires for us as wives) presented. Nowhere was I as a wife pointed to Christ as the only one who could meet me in my failures and provide for me the forgiveness and motication I need to get up and seek to be a godly wife tomorrow. And that for me was the big issue, even before I got started on the very narrow applications of biblical ideas. One thing that has struck me again and again over the years is the danger of well-meaning godly people, sharing the methods God has called them to in particular situations as though this is the only way to apply the principles of scripture. And human nature loves a list of things to do. We can check them all off, feel right with God, and get on with pleasing ourselves, without ever having to actually interact with God at all. We need God's grace and a growing relationship with Him, not a list of things to do! Sorry, will step off my soapbox now. It is encouraging to see this being understood more widely. Thankyou for putting it out there.

  6. Felicia Strange February 11, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Wendy, thank you for this, most essential insight for living by God's Word!