A Marketplace View of Proverbs 31
This article was written by the Kingdom At Work team but was inspired by a recent talk given by Pastor Julian Richards, Leader of New Wine Cymru and Cornerstone Church in Swansea, Wales.
Business and Proverbs 31 are two trains of thought that are not often paired together.
In fact, in Evangelical Christian culture, most teachings on this passage are about Biblical femininity.
However, something we have possibly glossed over, is the allegorical aspect that can be found in this passage of Scripture.
The author of Proverbs, King Solomon, also wrote Song of Solomon, another book of the Bible that, while written for his wife, is largely interpreted as an allegorical narrative about Jesus and His Bride, the Church.
If a similar interpretive lens is applied to Proverbs 31:10-31, we begin to see a picture of the Church, the Bride of Christ, operating in a way that bears fruit, transforms the world and brings glory to God. All the things that the Proverbs 31 Woman truly is, but on a corporate, global scale.
As we examine this passage more closely, it is interesting how much it describes the business world.
Some business themes embodied by this woman stand out:
- Seeks out resources (31:13)
- Possesses a strong work ethic (31:15)
- Creates provision (31:15)
- Utilizes discernment to make decisions (31:16)
- Exhibits forward thinking (31:16)
- Willing to get her hands dirty (31:16)
- Builds strength (31:17)
- Analytical (31:18)
- Generous (31:20)
Of course, these traits are of value in a woman (or anyone for that matter) but for the purpose of this article, we will look at this passage as a description of Christ’s Church rather than applying it as a lesson in femininity.
When looked at through this lens, we see a powerful picture of the Church bringing the Kingdom to earth through excellence in all she does.
Looking For a Bigger Picture
Sadly, much of the Church has been minimized to mainly seeing her mission as singing songs and listening to sermons once a week. Not to say that is the situation in every church, but this mindset is prevalent enough that it has largely stripped the power of the Church away in the marketplace.
It is interesting that Proverbs 31 does not spend any time describing a woman who is practicing religious activities. It describes an industrious and intelligent woman using her gifts to create profit, provide for her household and bring respect to her family within their community.
Largely, the Church has been confined to what happens within denominationally organized walls each Sunday morning. Because of this, Jesus’ Church appears to be limping along when her original design was to forcefully advance the Kingdom in every sphere of society.
What happens on Sunday mornings is a key piece in the Church’s role in the world, but her influence was never intended to be confined to those walls.
In Proverbs 31:23 we see that this woman’s husband is respected and known at the city gates (the place of commerce) in their city because of the way his wife lives.
“She is taking her gifts of business and causing it to have respect for her husband. Because of her industrious and business acumen, her husband will be respected at the city gates. The city gates represented a place of influence and authority in the city,” said Julian Richards.
What a powerful picture. What if we as the followers of Jesus in the marketplace, lived lives of influence that caused people to respect and long to know Jesus? This kind of organic impact has the potential to bring revival to whole districts, cities and nations. It is God being glorified where least expected, but most needed.
We as the body of Christ must ask ourselves this question:
“Is the Church violently advancing the Kingdom of God in the walls of her businesses with as much zeal as she does within her own physical walls?
If our personal answer to this question is “no”, we might benefit from allowing God to show us where our lives at work, and in society, are not lining up with the picture we see of His Bride in Proverbs 31.
The truth of the matter is that we can build influential and powerful churches that save people, but if what starts there does not translate into other spheres of society, then the Bride of Christ is not walking in her full calling.
Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With a Mission (YWAM), proposes that there are seven spheres of society.
- Celebration (Arts, Entertainment and Sports)
- Economics (Business, Science and Technology)
The woman described in Proverbs 31 is influencing multiple, if not all of these spheres.
Unfortunately, in our society the Church often focuses on the first two spheres on the list, seeing these spheres as sacred, and the others secular. This is not to say there are not ministries targeting some of the other spheres, but would we need specialized ministries if the Church was rightly partnering with its politicians, business leaders, teachers and athletes?
Going Into All The World
According to the story we read in Matthew 16:13-18, the Church was built to plunder and take back territory from the darkest spheres of the world.
“Jesus said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’. And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Jesus was literally standing on a rock (the opening of a cave), while having this conversation with his disciples. This cave was located in the district of Caesarea Philippi, which at the time of Jesus’ ministry, was the central hub of pagan worship and sacrifice. This cave was the epicenter of that activity.
Yet, this is where Jesus said He was going to build His Church. He could have shared this teaching moment in a synagogue, but He chose to walk right into hell on earth to give this lesson.
Today, our politicians, entertainers, educators, scientists and artists are in the pits of intense spiritual darkness every day. So, what is the role of the Church in this?
William Carey was a missionary to India during the 1800’s, many are familiar with his name and his work. Carey likened the intense work of evangelism to that of mining – being lowered into dark pits in order to find gold.
Before he left for India, he told his good friend Andrew Fuller, “I will go down into the pit, if you will hold the rope.”
The Church is full of believers who are already in pits and they desperately need the Church to hold the rope for them. Both roles are crucial and cannot be done without the other.
“The call of the Church is to change and transform the world. Is it the people who are called to the workplace that are the ministry of the Church,” said Pastor Richards.