A couple of years ago, my younger sister Dale gave me a necklace, and I love it. I’m wearing it right now as I write this. I wear it a lot, actually. It wasn’t expensive– I think her church was giving these out to mothers and grandmothers on Mother’s Day one year. It’s very simple, and has an attractive vintage look to it– just a little brass circle on a brass chain– yet clerks, cashiers, friends and strangers alike have frequently commented to me on the beauty of it. Grandkids like the feel of it, touch it, and ask me what it means.

Inside the brass circle, in tiny script, is the passage from Proverbs 31 that we have long known as “The Virtuous Woman,” or as my Bible titles it, “The woman who fears the Lord.”

I don’t wear this necklace as a trophy, a proud mark of having achieved that goal, as Dale herself knew I wouldn’t when she gave it to me. Oh no! I’m perpetually cognizant that I am still a work in process, still being formed, much like a fetus in utero being shaped and formed for when he will finally be released into the world. The fetus doesn’t look anything like a human yet, but when that baby actually sees his mother, he will look human. He will be “like her.” Until then, that strange little froggy-looking creature is still in the process of becoming more and more like his mother.

Just like that froggy-looking creature, I too am still in the process of being formed, still far from what I will eventually be when I see Jesus. (1 John 3:2,3) So I wear this necklace as a constant reminder of my greatest desire: that God would form in me the character of Christ–that is, the “virtue” of Christ– as I live my life on this earth, in the process of being prepared for eternity.

This necklace is even more meaningful to me now, as Dale went to be with Jesus just a couple of months ago, at the end of a long journey battling cancer. She’s completed her process of being formed, and now that she is with Jesus, she really is like Him. Christ has been “fully formed” in her. She has successfully reached her full capacity to reflect the virtue of Jesus, and she is “like Him.”

This necklace beautifully reflects the passion of Dale’s pursuit, right into her grand entrance, her “birth” into His eternal Kingdom– which is why she gave one of these necklaces to me too. She knew this was my passion too. For any of us who knew Dale, to remember her is to remember the “virtuous woman.” She wasn’t a perfect woman, but one whose passion really was to be like Jesus.

Likewise, as long as we are in this present world, we will never be perfect– but we can, and must, be virtuous, thereby transforming the culture for the sake of God’s glory. In our current culture, “virtue” is a word that’s become as antiquated as the appearance of my necklace itself, but it was a much-used word in the ancient world. In 1828, Noah Webster defined “virtue” as:

“Moral goodness; the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law… The practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws… In this sense it is true, VIRTUE is nothing but voluntary obedience to truth.”
Far more blandly, the current McMillan Dictionary defines virtue simply as: “a good quality or habit that a person has, especially a moral one such as honesty or loyalty.” True, sort of. But not complete, and certainly not Theocentric. McMillan’s understanding of the word centers our faith in man, whereas Webster understood that true virtue comes only from faith in God.

The Bible uses the word often, synonymously with the word “character.” 2 Peter 1:9, for instance, tells us to,
“make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,
and virtue with knowledge,
and knowledge with self-control,
and self-control with steadfastness,
and steadfastness with godliness,
and godliness with brotherly affection,
and brotherly affection with love.

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”

Some call this passage “the process,” and yet it’s absolutely imperitive to understand that the pursuit of virtue is not a process that we can create of our own ability. We cannot simply wish ourselves to become more virtuous! It’s completely the work of God’s transforming power in our lives, the inevitable result when our faith is deeply centered in Christ, not in man. God forgives, but never leaves us without transforming us into becoming more like Him.

Furthermore, the goal of virtue is to become “effective and fruitful” for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom, not for us and our kingdom. Ultimately, it’s not for our glory, but for Christ’s glory.

The word “virtue” has become almost obsolete in our current culture. But truthfully, even the presence of virtue itself is becoming obsolete in our very anthropocentric culture. In one of his books, author Jerry Sittser recently wrote of a dad who asked his young son what he wants to be when he grows up. Without a moment’s hesitation, the boy responded enthusiastically, “Famous!” That stunning response caused the startled father to ponder the fact that this current self-focused culture is intensely committed to a desperate pursuit of fame, but without character– without “virtue.” We see it everywhere in the so-called “heroes” of this current generation.

The recent rash of school shootings is a horrific indication of this: absent of character, young people are even willing to have their own lives cut short as they heinously take down as many innocent victims as possible with them merely so that “everybody will know my name.”

Likewise, there has never before in the history of America been such a presidential campaign so devoid of character as the 2016 campaign. In an acute reflection of the current culture, angry Americans–including evangelical Christians– have laid aside virtue in their pursuit of the most popular candidate. Men and women both who seek the highest office in the land have stooped to vulgarity, vicious attack, and character assassination, long having replaced true statesmen– men of character who reason intelligently and debate sound issues. Without character themselves, these people stir up anger and attack the character of others, foolishly thinking they will make themselves appear comparitively better, in their narcissistic pursuit to assure that eventually everybody will know who they are. Their goal is to be remembered, if not for worthy accomplishments, then at least for sarcasm, vulgarity, and arrogance.

All around us, the need for a return to character and virtue has never been greater. In his book, “A Grace Revealed: How God Redeems the Story of Your Life,” Jerry Sittser noted that, “Character transforms us… it enlarges us as persons, making us bigger than our circumstances would naturally allow, for sooner or later all of us will encounter circumstances that threaten to diminish us, turning us into angry, selfish, slothful, or bitter people. God can use those very same circumstances to form Christ in us…”

Sittser asked, “What do you really want to be known for? What kind of person do you want to become?”

Even more, Proverbs 31:10 begins its discussion about the virtuous woman by asking, “Who can find one?” In this crazy, angry, self-worshipping culture, where do we even look to find the virtuous women? The answer may be closer than we can imagine, actually.

Sittser wrote of an African nun working in a remote orphanage, whose routine consisted of waking early, dressing and feeding the children, praying, again caring for the children, interjecting light meals and more prayer. No one watched her, and few knew who she was. Such a simple, “ordinary” life… and yet her face shone as she told him, “This is my day!” As a woman of virtue and godly character, she had found peace and great contentment fulfilling God’s purpose for her life, even when nobody was watching, and even though it touched just the few who were right there in front of her, those she was responsible for. She felt no need for the praise of man. She saw “God” in the ordinariness and the “smallness” of her life, which produced great passion in her work and her calling.

Virtuous women are not side-tracked by a desire for “fame,” or an unrelenting need to be noticed. Proverbs 31:10-31 paints the portrait of what God requires of us– that is, faith and virtue expressed in the ordinary demands of life:

“…her husband trusts in her… she does him good…she seeks wool and flax and works…she brings food from afar… she provides food for her household…she buys a field… she opens her hand to the poor…she looks well to the ways of her household…”

It all sounds boringly “ordinary,” doesn’t it? And yet it’s in the cumulative acts of virtuous women who follow the call of God that He has given to each one individually that whole cultures are transformed! When the Children of Israel were in exile in Babylon, a wicked and ungodly culture (Jeremiah 29:4-8), they were commanded by God to do the “ordinary”: to build houses; plant gardens; let their sons and daughters marry and raise Godly children to the glory of God; multiply and do not decrease in the land, because eventually, cumulatively, virtue would overcome evil and by it, a whole culture would be transformed!

Fame is not the goal of the virtuous woman. Godly character is not expressed in neon signs that draw attention to the virtuous woman. Her virtue is expressed as a quiet arrow she’s holding that points to Christ. A virtuous woman is not a perfect woman. She sometimes fails. But a virtuous woman knows how to repent, and by her example she points those around her, always, to forgiveness in Christ. Jesus Christ is her source of strength, the joy of her salvation, the forgiveness of her sins, the sustaining power by which her life is lived– and He alone is the hope of transformed cultures.

It’s not on a stage or in the limelight of adoring fans, but in the quiet privacy of the home where true character is formed and practiced, as Proverbs 31 shows so well– with those you are most comfortable and at ease with, those with whom you live life day in and day out. That’s where the true “self” is revealed, and that’s where virtue takes deep root.

Musician Phil Keaggy sings a song written by Ted Sandquist called, “I Want to Know Your Perfect Way” based upon Psalm 101:2-4. In part, the words say:

“I will live with a pure heart in my home;
I will not leave wickedness before my eyes
For I hate the unfaithful things I do
And I want no part of selfish pride…”

And that’s where we find the virtuous woman.

At Dale’s memorial service, the church was packed with friends who loved her. Every seat was taken, and people lined all three walls of the sanctuary, standing. An overflow room was also filled with people watching the service on a monitor screen, and hundreds more who were unable to attend watched remotely from all over Canada and the U.S. Without a doubt, she was loved and respected by many, and she had touched many, many lives in various spheres of her work as a dental assistant, in her church, in her acts of charity, in her hospitality and kindness to so many friends, and in her influence within her community.

And yet it was in her husband and her children that the truest demonstration of her character was most clearly reflected. The passion for Christ in each one of them as they each spoke during the service, the testimony of their deep faith in God, and the praise they all expressed for their wife/mother was the greatest reflection of her life’s work, and the truest mark of Dale’s character. These were the ones who really knew her. They saw her in her best and worst moments, in the stress as well as the triumphs of life. The truest expression of her virtue was shown in her home, with the ones she was most “real” and most comfortable with.

Likewise for us too, it’s in our homes and with the people who are closest to us that virtue is both formed and tested. There are many other spheres of influence that God will call us to in our lifetime, and yet to live our lives committed to the ones closest to us that God has given us in the world is the greatest and most honorable task that God has given to us. This is where we are most intensely challenged, and where we show our truest passions.

Our home is our first mission field. Our home is where the lasting fruit of our faith will make the greatest impact. Our home is where virtue– true Godly character– is both taught and practiced, then sent out into the culture to transform it.

Where do we look for virtue? Right in front of us. And how do we know when we’ve found the virtuous woman? “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” (Prov. 31:28)


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