Near the end of his classic book Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville said this:
Now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: To the superiority of their women. (214)
Now the point in bringing this up is not to make any claims about the essential nature of Americans, who are sinners like everybody else, or to get moderns to trip over the word superiority. Rather the point is a simple one — it is to remark on the fact that during a critical time in our nation’s development, the women had a remarkable impact, and that (given the times) the potency of their virtue had little to do with many of the tricks that we use today to “empower women.”
This lines up with many things found in Scripture. “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.” (Proverbs 12:4). “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels” (Proverbs 31:10). “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lᴏʀᴅ is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
A godly wife does not just adorn herself; she adorns her husband. She is a crown of glory. She does this as a virtuous woman, and this is precious, in part, because of its comparative rarity. If it were easy, more would be happy to be virtuous. So at the heart of an adorned and adorning wife is her deep and abiding fear of God.
But that which is designed to be glorious becomes particularly obnoxious whenever it fails to achieve its designed end. The woman was made to be the glory of her husband (1 Corinthians 11:7). What does it look like when she is not? We have a clear indication in one of the verses already cited — she is either a crown to her husband or she is rottenness in his bones. Proverbs presents both wisdom and folly to us under the figure of a woman.
The Bible repeats a warning about contentious wives a number of different ways. It is better to live in the desert with the jackals and wolves than to live with a contentious and angry woman (Proverbs 21:19). Living with a contentious woman is like listening to a non-stop drip on a rainy day (Proverbs 27:15). Think you are going to fix that leak? Good luck (Proverbs 27:16). It would be better to live in the attic behind the suitcases than to live in a spacious mansion with a noisy woman (Proverbs 21:9; cf. Proverbs 25:24; 14:1).
One of the central duties assigned to wives is that of respect (Ephesians 5:33). We should not forget what biblical respect looks like. It consists of a chaste way of life coupled with fear (1 Peter 3:2, 6), a meek and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:3–4), and thoroughgoing humility of demeanor (1 Timothy 2:9). This is no breezy, casual respect; the word is phobeo, meaning reverence or fear (Ephesians 5:33).
All this is in contrast to how the Bible describes a woman who is graced with wisdom and kindness. “A gracious woman retaineth honor: and strong men retain riches” (Proverbs 11:16, KJV). Just as riches flow to a strong man, so also honor flows to a gracious woman. So a woman is the crown and glory of her husband to the extent that she is a gracious woman. If she is, then she retains honor as one who has fulfilled her calling.
Doing this, she completes her husband: God has said that it is not good for him to be alone, but also that it would be better for him to be alone than to have an ungracious wife. A gracious woman completes her husband.
She reverences her husband, which is not a servile fear, but rather a wholesome and godly reverence. Anyone who thinks that this demeans women needs to get out more. She does not honor him the way a serf honors the king, but rather honors him the way a crown honors a king. A gracious woman honors her husband.
And living this way, she does good to her husband. As he provides for her, she manages his household well. “She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:12). A gracious woman enriches her husband.
As the quotation from De Tocqueville indicates, when women are virtuous, people notice. Where does this come from? The apostle Paul tells us that a man who loves his wife loves himself (Ephesians 5:28).
Godly marriage is designed in such a way as to make it impossible for a man to out-give his wife. This is not because he gets to be the selfish one, but rather this is for the same reason an industrious farmer cannot possibly out-give his field. If a man sacrifices himself for his wife, as Christ did for the church, he will find that she is his thirty, sixty, and one-hundred fold. As his glory, she brings out his strengths.
She is where his strengths are manifested and come back to bless him.