No doubt there are numerous cultural setbacks to having a biblically based family here in America. We could talk about entertainment and the media. They’ve definitely caused a setback. We could talk about prosperity and materialism. That is killing American families. We could talk about the sexual revolution since the 60s. Wow! I’m sure it shocks you that I don’t think that one is the #1. But I was thinking about Proverbs 31 the other day and the #1 cultural setback became crystal clear to me. It may surprise you.
Proverbs 31:23, 28-29 says:
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
No, the cultural setback is not about the role of women. Rather, it is about the role of the family. What amazes me in this statement about the “Worthy Woman” is that her husband being known in the gates was a praise about her. What Solomon was saying is that because she was a worthy woman, her husband was known. Are you beginning to see the setback? In our modern American culture, that would never be a praise for the wife. That is simply a praise for the husband. He’s a great man and well-thought of. But in this biblical culture his status in the community was not just a praise of him, it was praise of his wife. It was praise for the whole family.
Why? Because the #1 cultural setback to a biblically based family in our modern American culture is individualism. Yes, you read that right. Individualism.
What’s the Big Deal About Individualism?
I’m glad you asked. What we need to see in Proverbs 31 is that the basic unit of this biblical culture was not the individual. It was the family. In our American culture, the basic unit is the person, not the family. Here in America, we are all about independently pulling ourselves up by the boot straps and showing that we are the best.
But that was not what was going on in Proverbs 31. In that chapter, the family was working as a unit. Individualism is causing all kinds of problems. In fact, some of those other cultural setbacks mentioned in the introduction of this post stem from this more fundamental problem. Isn’t the sexual revolution completely based in the selfishness of seeking individual pleasure rather than the service of building a family? Isn’t the over pursuit of entertainment and recreation another example of self-seeking rather than the selflessness of working and serving in a family? Can’t much of the materialism be traced back to a desire to win as an individual at the rat-race of life?
This kind of individualism produces all kinds of setbacks in the family.
First, it produces competition among marriage partners. Husbands and wives compete for who has the largest income, who does the most work, who is the best. That comes far more from individualism than it does from working as a family unit. Rather than working together to allow the family to receive praise and honor from God, they compete with each other to receive the greater praise from men. Rather than individual competition within the family, the family needs to work together as a team to accomplish the family win.
Second, it produces a dichotomy that increases bitterness and resentment between spouses. I’ve heard spouses say to each other, “Alright, for the last 10 years we’ve done your thing. Now it’s my turn.” That is a sign of resentment and bitterness. One spouse feels used as the other accomplished their dreams. Sadly, it’s often the wife who feels used as the husband pursued his dreams, but it can work the other way as well. The problem is this turn-taking doesn’t fix the problem. It just switches the roles and increases the bitterness and resentment. Rather, than taking turns at individual dreams, the family needs to work together at developing family dreams everyone can buy in to and work together on.
Third, it produces entitlement mentalities and removes gratitude. When people within a family are pursuing their own individualistic goals instead of working together as a family unit, it produces fights over the family resources of time, money, effort and strife regarding the family responsibilities of making money, caring for the house, doing the chores. Everyone thinks their pursuit is more worthy, so they feel entitled to the resources and entitled to dumping responsibilities on others. But they rarely feel any gratitude for the people in the family who are doing the behind-the-scenes work that allows the individual to accomplish a goal. The old saying that behind every great man there is a great woman is not intended to say a woman’s place is behind her man. That isn’t the point of Proverbs 31 either. The point is that when someone in the family is honored, it was a family affair. No one in a family receives honor without the support system in the background. When someone in the family is honored, everyone in the family deserves honor. That is the point of Proverbs 31:23. The further point found in Proverbs 31:28-29 is the one who received the honor in the gates needs to be the one who passes on the honor to the rest of the family.
Do you think the divorce rate might go down if families started working as families rather than as a collection of individuals? Do you think more could be accomplished in the kingdom and in the community if families worked as a unit rather than as disparate parts? How do you think our society would be affected if the family once again became the basic unit instead of the individual?
I know I need to work on this with my family. I’m not writing this because we’ve got this down, but because it occurred to me that some of the struggles in my own family stem right back to this problem. We’ve all go to work to do. Let’s do it together.
Tell the world what you think by commenting below.