[“I love strong women.”] – that’s a classic Piper quote from T4G 2008 in a panel discussion – and it was not the only famous Piper quote from the conference. In your message there you said Bethlehem is a church teeming with strong women and something about polygamy or something. I forget all the details now. ... Okay, so explain this, because strength is often considered to be a masculine trait. Of course the Proverbs 31 woman has strong arms (verse 17). So how would you define “strong feminine womanhood”?
Yes, good question. And if I were a polygamist, that is the kind of woman I would want. I have got one. She is great. She is strong. I don’t want any more. She is just perfect. I feel very strongly about the strength of women. Now here is what I mean:
Beauty in Strength
In Proverbs 31, it is not just her arms that are strong. Verse 25 says, Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. That has got to be one of my favorite verses in all the Bible. A woman laughing at the time to come is not a woman who is looking at her biceps and getting encouragement. She is looking at her God and getting encouragement because the time to come is a time of trouble — a time of unknown. Her biceps are not going to help her.
“The only thing that will make a woman strong is to lay a hold of her great God and become strong in him.”
She may be carrying kindling or carrying the pots or doing whatever they did in that culture, but she knows that if the Amorites would sweep across or if a flood comes or if a horrible plague comes, it is only laying a hold of her great God and becoming strong in him that is going to make the difference. In the New Testament, the text that says that so powerfully for me is 1 Peter 3:1–6. It is one of my favorite ones. If I were going to preach on a strong woman in a conference, I would go there. It says that this woman has an unbelieving husband who she wants so much, and rightly so, to be converted. Peter is trying to help her know how she might be used of God to bring that about. And he talks about the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.
Gentle and Quite
Now if you read those phrases, the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit and you didn’t know better, you might start to think it means weak. Especially since in 1 Peter 3:7 she is called the weaker vessel. I don’t think weaker vessel in any way implies spiritually weak, mentally weak, or psychologically weak. It is talking about weak. We have different leagues for NBA and basketball for women. That is consistent across the board. Everybody recognizes that there are physical traits about men and women that put men in a category that shouldn’t compete with women. But here in 1 Peter 3:4–5 the strength of that gentle and quiet spirit is described this way.
Holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves that way. You are her children, you women, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Now that takes you back to laughing at the future, right? You have the woman in Proverbs who is laughing at the time to come. And here in 1 Peter 3:6 you have the woman who is not fearing anything that is frightening.
Now that is what I mean by a strong woman. I mean a woman who can lose a child, lose a husband, lose her health, face a family crisis, see the world becoming anti Christian all around her and wonder about raising children in this world, women who go to a dangerous place on the mission field, women who return good for evil over and over again, women who get up a thousand times with a sick or disabled child at night, all of it in the strength that God supplies, because God is her hope. God is her rock. That is what I mean.
Women are not Men
I should really make clear, Tony. There is a difference between a strong woman, strong in her womanhood, and a woman who is trying to be a man and, thus, trying to be strong. I hardly go to any movies, because of all kinds of reasons, but I see enough clips on the internet. It looks to me like women are constantly being portrayed, not as strong women, but as imitation men. And it is absolutely hopeless. They are killing as many as men. They are fighting. They are kicking as man kick. They are punching and doing everything to show that there is no difference in that kind of strength.
“Women in movies are constantly being portrayed not as strong women, but as imitation men.”
Frankly, I think that is hopeless for women. It is going to backfire in the long run. A wife and a husband don’t want to get into a sparring match. It should never come to that. A truly strong woman is not in desperate want to be a man.
She is a woman who is assured of her feminine identity in such a deep and powerful way that she knows she is a man’s equal in the kingdom of God. She knows she is a man’s equal in the sight of God. She knows she is a man’s equal in the inheritance of joy. She is poised and free to affirm the manhood of the men around her and come alongside them and help them in every way they can in their unique calling. In this way, the dance and the rhythm and the choreography of male and female become a beautiful partnership.