Ladies, Do You Want to Be a Virtuous Woman? What's That Mean?
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.
Summary: Many Christians’ “virtuous woman” meaning/definition would center on prayer, Bible study, and spirituality. Those things are important indeed. But God’s portrait of her is surprisingly different. Let's let the Bible answer the question, "Who/what is a virtuous woman?" Here's God's meaning and definition.
Explanatory note: [2024 edit] My first wife was the subject of many of the illustrations below. I wrote this article during her lifetime. She was a truly virtuous woman, and we had a joyful marriage for 38 years before she went on to her heavenly reward. Since then the Lord has blessed me again with a godly woman of virtue, to whom I've been very happily married for 12 years.
There's almost an entire chapter on the virtuous woman in the Bible. So we're able to answer questions like: What does "virtuous woman" mean? Who is this godly lady? What Bible verses talk about this virtuous woman? How does God in His Word describe her? Does she pray faithfully each day? Is she used in the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Does she consistently do daily Bible study and have regular devotional times? The answer? — None of these excellent traits is listed in God’s most extensive and descriptive definition of virtuous women in the Bible.
Now please understand me, there is no doubt that the excellent practices listed above (prayer, Bible study, etc.) are valuable aspects of the lives of every Christian woman (and man). They should be part of the lives of all believers. However, God devotes almost a full chapter of the inspired Scriptures (Proverbs 31) to His description and meaning of the “virtuous woman.” And the favorable traits of a godly woman that He lists are, surprisingly to some readers, of a substantially different nature.
Please go with me to the Bible’s grand portrait of Biblical womanhood, of the qualities of a virtuous woman in the eyes of God — that is, Proverbs 31:10-31, quoted from the NIV and, where so noted, from the King James Version (KJV). Some may be surprised by the list of characteristics God's Word uses for this godly woman. But as believers we should pay great attention, not to man's opinions, but to God Almighty's clear declaration of the meaning of a virtuous woman in His eyes.
Proverbs 31:10, KJV Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
- •• Thanks to the Lord, I met my "Proverbs 31 woman" in 1968 in Anchorage, Alaska. She witnessed to me and led me to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Four years later we were married and have now celebrated our 35th anniversary of a successful, happy marriage.
- • Her worth has consistently proven to be “far above rubies”. I would describe my wife as “priceless!” I consider her to be a woman of God after God's own heart. I would readily suggest her as an illustration of the admirable traits that God lists in the following verses.
Vs. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
KJV: The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.
- •• A virtuous wife inspires absolute confidence in her husband. He can “safely trust in her” (KJV). She is not impetuous, scatterbrained, or unpredictable. Rather, she can be trusted. She is a worthy and wise woman. Her husband can be confident in her. She will never deliberately let him down.
•• The husband of a biblical woman of virtue “lacks nothing of value”. That is illustrated by some of her remarkable traits in the succeeding verses.
Vs. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
- •• The Proverbs 31 virtuous woman “brings him good” — that is, her husband. She is not a “liberated” woman as defined by modern feminists. She is God-fearing (vs. 31), a woman of God, and also very much husband- and family-oriented. And these are seen throughout this chapter as positive traits. She is a godly wife, also a devoted mother if she has children.
- • Proverbs 12:4 A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband.
- •• She brings him good. There does seem to be biblical wisdom in the modern-day axiom that “behind every good man stands a good woman”. She is an asset to her husband. She will never intentionally bring harm his way.
Vs. 13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
- •• This exemplary woman is skilled and capable in working with fabric. The modern counterpart would be skill in things like quilting and sewing.
•• And notice that “she works”. There is no hint of laziness in this woman who is praised by God.
•• And she “worketh willingly with her hands” (KJV). She is “willing to get her hands dirty”, as the old saying goes. She is no diva, no prima donna! A woman of God is not “above” manual work.
Vs. 14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
- •• She understands that the duties of a wife and mother include ensuring that her family is well fed.
- • A virtuous, biblical woman, may I suggest, will excel in this area. She will not only go about to learn the necessary cooking skills, but she will study sound nutrition and will ensure that her family is fed nutritiously, not with a high proportion of out-of-the-box junk food.
Vs. 15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.
- •• The virtuous woman as described in the Bible, this praiseworthy woman of God, is not given to “sleeping in” in the mornings. No! Rather, she is up before dawn to make sure that her household is well fed. She is a diligent woman, managing well her household (vs. 27).
- • I cannot recall a single instance during our child-raising years when my wife left me and our four children to fend for ourselves at breakfast. She was always up early enough to send us off with a nutritious breakfast.
Vs. 16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
- •• Amazing! The Proverbs 31 woman is no wimp! She has the intelligence and business sense to evaluate a piece of property and to buy it. She has her own “earnings”, with which she buys the field and plants a vineyard.
- • In 1989 my wife was driving down a road near our rented home in Oregon. She spotted a vacant field for sale and came home and told me about it, recommending that we buy it. We went back together, looked it over, and did buy it. We then built on that field the house in which we raised our four children over the next 15 years.
Vs. 17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
- •• Virtuous women are not afraid of physical work. I recall one day in Alaska when we had 30 cubic yards of good topsoil dumped in our backyard. Our task was to spread it by wheelbarrow before planting our lawn. After some time I took a break to lie down exhausted, and my wife and another Christian woman were still out there shoveling dirt! My wife was a strong woman, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Vs. 18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
- •• Like the virtuous women of the Bible, many women today have their own home-based businesses. The woman in Proverbs 31 seems to have been a seamstress who sold garments and sashes (vss. 19, 24).
•• She apparently did her business well, working well into the evening, because “her trading [was] profitable”.
Vs. 19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
- •• Virtuous women of God learn domestic skills. My beloved maternal grandmother was an excellent seamstress. Her husband had died and left her a widow with seven children at home. Her skills at making clothing were essential to keeping her children well clothed.
- • My wife is an exceptionally gifted quilter. Our home is decorated in just about every room with the products of her skills. She made me personally a warm flannel quilt in a manly pattern that I treasure.
Vs. 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
- •• Her home-based skills have earned her a profitable income. She is a giving, generous woman, always willing to share her resources with the poor and needy.
- • I am reminded of stories told about America's Great Depression of the early 20th century, when millions were jobless, hungry, and sometimes homeless. Godly women by the thousands, known for their unflinching generosity, would say: "I will never turn a hungry person away from my door!"
Vs. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
- •• The godly woman is fully aware of the priority of her family in her life over other things that might sidetrack her from her domestic responsibilities. She is an excellent illustration of the charge to younger women in Titus 2 (verse 5) to be “busy at home”.
Vs. 22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
- •• Not only do the skills of this honorable woman of God earn her an income from the merchants, she also makes sure that her own home’s needs are well cared for. The bed coverings referred to here could be similar to the quilts that my wife and many other exemplary women so painstakingly create.
•• The Proverbs 31 woman does not neglect her own appearance. She uses her skills to provide attractive clothing for herself.
Vs. 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
- •• When I served as an officer in the United States Air Force, I noticed that the high-ranking officers’ wives were consistently women of noteworthy character. The admirable traits of a good wife can secure respect for her husband as well.
•• Notice the God-approved division of responsibilities. She was at home, caring for her home and family. Her husband was in a place of respect at the city gates among the elders of the land. The city gates are where much ancient commerce was conducted. So it is not unreasonable to conclude that the husband was conducting his business affairs there.
Vs. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
- •• Already mentioned earlier, this woman of God seems to have had a home-based business. The surrounding verses make it clear, though, that she did not do this at the expense of the well-being of her household. This virtuous woman defined in the Scriptures is faithful to use her God-given talents in her God-given roles.
Vs. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
- •• The woman of virtue has a sense of dignity. She is not frivolous or embarrassing in her conduct.
•• She looks to the future and makes sure that her household is well supplied, so that she can “laugh at the days to come”.
Vs. 26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
- •• This godly woman speaks with wisdom. Virtually daily I listen to the wisdom that proceeds from my wife’s words. In fact, as I write this bible study, I fully intend to present a rough draft copy to her, so that I can mine the jewels of wisdom and experience that she can add to my understanding of this womanly topic.
•• The virtuous woman will offer faithful instruction. The context of the surrounding verses places the location of this instruction in her home. My wife faithfully instructed our four children in character issues, domestic responsibilities, social graces, and much, much more. She was a spiritual leader and example to our children, as I also made effort to be. I was an involved father, but I must sincerely attribute to my wife the credit for the majority of the training that our children received. She was their at-home “mom”, and she made the home a place of both love and learning.
Vs. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
- •• The bible defines the husband as the head of the home (1 Timothy 3:4-5; 1 Corinthians 11:3). However, his daytime responsibilities are outside the home, at “the city gates” (vs. 23). The wife-and-mother is at home, as this chapter clearly indicates. So it is her daily responsibility (not his) to “watch over the affairs of her household” (vs. 27). This is consistent with the apostle Paul’s counsel to the younger widows to “marry, to have children, to manage their homes...” (1 Timothy 5:14).
•• The woman of virtue in the Bible “does not eat the bread of idleness”. To this day I marvel at my wife’s energy and drive to maintain a nice, orderly home. “Idleness” is a word that is alien to her!
Vs. 28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
- •• Children raised by an involved, dedicated, loving, at-home mom rarely grow up feeling estranged from her. Rather, they bless her!
•• Likewise, the husband of such an honorable and righteous woman will overflow with praise for her from his heart.
- • I cannot adequately communicate in words how thankful I am for my virtuous wife. She has been an extraordinary mother to our children and a matchless wife to me.
Vs. 29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
- •• That is the sentiment that a biblical, Proverbs 31 woman as described in this chapter will evoke in her husband’s heart — “You are the best!”
Vs. 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
- •• God is reminding us that beauty and charm are fleeting, temporal things. But that which earns genuine praise for a woman is that she is a holy and God-fearing woman.
- • I have mentioned a number of commendable traits of the virtuous woman I am married to. But the thing which surpasses them all is that she loves and serves the Lord with all her heart. She continues to inspire me with that dedication and faith. In my opinion, she is an outstanding example of a woman after God's own heart. And her spiritual fervor has been an ever-visible example for our four children. I have certainly labored to train my children and be a godly example to them. But due in great measure to my wife’s input in their lives, all four children as adults are actively serving the Lord on their own.
Vs. 31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
- •• Virtuous women have a great reward coming from the Lord in eternity, along with the great fulfillment they will experience in this life for a “job well done”.
•• And the Proverbs 31 woman's virtues will not only be known and blessed by her husband and children (vs. 28), but also her reputation will precede her to the “city gates”. The godly woman, whose life is patterned after Proverbs 31:10-31, will be well known and highly respected in her community.
Some concluding thoughts — Is Proverbs 31 the only place in the Sacred Scriptures that describes the desirable characteristics of a virtuous woman of God? Certainly not. There are other Scriptures that speak of women of prayer, women manifesting spiritual gifts, women sharing their testimonies, and much more. I could suggest names of virtuous women in the Bible — Ruth, Queen Esther, Mary the sister of Martha, Mary the mother of Jesus, and certainly many more.
However, no other Scripture portion answers the question "Who/what is a virtuous woman according to God?" as clearly and extensively as Proverbs 31:10-31 does. Repeating some of the highlights — to briefly summarize the Bible's definition and meaning of a virtuous woman — the woman that God’s Word describes as praiseworthy:
- • is of noble character
- • is fully trustworthy
- • is an asset to her husband
- • is domestically skilled
- • is concerned that her household be well and nutritiously fed
- • is diligent, arising before dawn and busy until after dark
- • is endowed with a good business sense, even to the point of buying a field and planting a vineyard
- • may have her own profitable home-based business
- • is a hard worker
- • is generous to and aware of the poor and needy
- • is wise in preparing her household for the needs of the days to come
- • is wise in ensuring that she and her family are well and appropriately clothed
- • is in proper relationship to her husband, who is out conducting his business affairs at the city gates
- • is a woman of wisdom
- • shows dignity and strength
- • is a faithful instructor to her children
- • is diligent to watch over her household
- • is the recipient of blessing and praise from her children and her husband
- • is above all a God-fearing, godly woman!
Such a godly woman has been enshrined in the Scriptures for several thousand years as God’s role model for the virtuous woman of God. To the older women I say, teach these things to the younger women. To the younger women, I exhort you to resist the enticements of the antifamily feminist teachings of our day. Reach out, rather, to embrace God’s vision for you, His “virtuous women.” To such a woman God says (vs. 31), “Let her works praise her at the city gates.”
Postscript: This study is written with much deference and respect to those single women and widows who serve the Lord. They too may be deemed to be “virtuous women” in the light of the verses that apply to them in their unmarried state, both in Proverbs 31 and elsewhere in the Scriptures. In this bible study I have simply attempted to focus on the Proverbs 31 expression of God’s “virtuous woman” without trying to cover every possible marital situation. I extend my deepest respect to you virtuous ladies among the godly single women and widows!
Postscript: A Sad 'Good-bye' to a truly virtuous woman
Mickey Feeney, 1948-2010
If you wish to study further the bible's teachings about godly women, we suggest:
- • Christian Women's Ministry — a sermon revealing the multifaceted ministries of Christian women in the New Testament.
• Ordination of Women as Pastors & Other Ordained Ministries — a sermon offering Scriptural responses to current arguments for the practice in many modern churches of ordaining women.
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by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.