It's no surprise that far more verses in the portrait of the Proverbs 31 woman are about productivity and financial management than relationships. In the biblical narrative, work is a co-labor of love, tasks done in partnership with a gracious God who uses our labors to bless others. In response to criticism that he healed a sick man on the Sabbath, Jesus said, "My Father is working until now, and I am working" (John 5:17). His work was to glorify his Father and help others. Ours is the same. That is the definition of our productivity.
Should women work? Absolutely! Women should work and work hard every day. As Christ-following women, the Bible calls us to work for the glory of God. But the location of where we work is neither the definition nor the measure of our success.
If you open my new book expecting a template for a successful life, you won't find it. What you will find, though, is an overview of women's work throughout many eras, an exploration of what it means to be made a woman in the image of God who is to be fruitful at home and work, and some ideas about how to apply these concepts in various stages of life. But no templates for professional or personal success. That's because the true measure of success isn't based on any human standard.
Our culture creates identity out of productivity and rewards what it perceives to be more important or of greater status. Jesus did not make this mistake. He modeled servanthood for us so that we could understand the hierarchy of his kingdom. As he told his disciples:
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life—a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45 HCSB)
Our culture believes that we are self-made people and that we can achieve whatever we want to do. But the Bible emphasizes over and over again that we are merely recipients of grace. All that we have is a gift from God. As the apostle Paul says:
For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn't receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn't received it? (1 Cor. 4:7)
How then should we measure success? We should think as recipients who will one day give an account for how we managed what we were given. We are stewards of all that we have received, including our relationships. It is God who gives us the relationships, children, time, talents, interests, opportunities, and tasks that fill our days and years.
We may be wives or mothers, but as important as these roles are, they end in this life. We continue on into eternity as children of God and sisters to those who have been rescued by Christ.
We may work in highly esteemed professions or we may not be paid for our daily labors. Those roles are not our identities, either. They are merely opportunities to be invested for the glory of God. Those things God gives us in terms of relationships and opportunities, he wants multiplied for the sake of his kingdom.
That's the true measure of success.