Mother's Day is just around the corner (May 9), and should you decide to offer a message for the occasion, Steve Mathewson's look at Proverbs 31 might provide some helpful direction for your own preaching. If you're not planning on preaching a sermon about mothers, motherhood, etc, I would still suggest filing this one away for your records. Steve offers some great thoughts for preaching on parenting in general! Click here to listen to the audio.
Introductory remarks from Steve Mathewson:
Mother's Day is notoriously challenging for preachers. Do I preach a Mother's Day sermon or not? If so, what text should I use? We often press Proverbs 31:1–9 into service on Mother's Day. But what about preaching a sermon on the "other" Proverbs 31 woman? I did exactly that on a recent Mother's Day, preaching Proverbs 31:1–9.
Now, why choose Proverbs 31:1–9? To be sure, there is a certain interest factor attached to texts like this—texts which rarely, if ever, get preached. But my decision to preach this text grew out of a more substantial reason. The more I studied what seemed to be a rather odd piece of wisdom, the more I realized how critical its message is for the community of faith today. Proverbs 31:1–9 touches on a matter which is integral to living a gospel-driven life—the matter of caring for the poor and needy.
One of the challenges of preaching wisdom texts is preaching them in a gospel-centered, Christ-centered way. I am not referring to drawing artificial lines from a wisdom saying to Jesus. Rather, I am referring to understanding these wisdom sayings in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the overall storyline of the Bible. Thankfully, it is not difficult to see how the theology of Proverbs 31:1–9 points clearly to what Jesus taught during his earthly ministry. I made this connection, and I also talked at the end of the sermon about how the power of the gospel makes it possible for Christ-followers to put the teaching of this wisdom text into practice.
The feedback I received was positive. A couple of listeners told me that they were nervous when I started reading the text. They had guests with them because it was Mother's Day, and they wondered where I was going with a text that simply seemed to say: Don't chase women, and don't drink beer! But drilling into the core issue of the text resulted in a message that was compelling and Christ-honoring.
For me, it was a joy to preach Proverbs 31:1–9. Old Testament wisdom literature frequently gets ignored or abused. So it is always a privilege to show listeners how "all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). Also, as already noted, this text lends itself to presenting the gospel.
Of course, you don't have to wait until Mother's Day to preach Proverbs 31:1–9! This text can be utilized any time you need to remind your listeners of God's call for his people to meet the needs of the vulnerable, marginalized, and oppressed.
Today, I'm going to preach a Mother's Day sermon, and some of you may be dreading it. You'd just as soon do eight loads of laundry or get a root canal than listen to a Mother's Day sermon! One group says, "I'm tired of getting hammered on Mother's Day with impossible expectations. I'd like to be the ideal mom, but I'm too busy raising children!" A second group says, "I'm a woman without children. Mother's Day is hard for me. It's awkward because I feel like I don't fit." To women in both groups, I want to say, "Relax! I don't want to add to the pressure or pain that comes from being a mom or not being a mom. I want to encourage you from the Bible about the impact you can make on the next generation—your children, if you're a mom, or your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, students, or neighbor kids who live next door. And this is a sermon not only for moms, but for dads, teachers, coaches, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and next-door neighbors of children. Men, this is not a day off when the sermon is just for mothers, so stop daydreaming! I want to share with all of you a lesson that wise moms and other influential people can teach the next generation.
A mom who fears the Lord teaches her kids to use their strength to serve people in need.
Our text for today is Proverbs 31, and I want to talk about the "other" Proverbs 31 woman. The Proverbs 31 woman described in verses 10-31 gets all the press. But I'm interested this morning in what the "other" Proverbs 31 woman listed in verses 1-9 has to say.
According to verse 1, this lady is a mom—a queen whose son becomes king. We don't have a clue as to who Lemuel was, but his mom, the queen-mother, has something important to teach us. The word "oracle" means a "burden" or "a heavy word." In verse 2, you see that she really wants her son to get this: "Listen, my son." Literally, she is saying, "What, my son"—perhaps in the sense of saying, "What are you doing, my son?" or "What should you do, my son? You're the one I love. I gave birth to you. I asked God for you." What follows this call to attention, then, is an important lesson from a wise mom—and you don't have to be a queen-mother whose son is going to be king to apply it to your situation!
At first, her advice looks fairly predictable: Don't chase women, and don't drink beer! But if you think that's what this lesson is about, you've missed the point. The question that's being answered is, "How will you use your power when life presents you with great opportunities?"
Chances are, your kids or nephews or nieces or students are not going to be royalty. But they might become doctors, teachers, senators, or heads of corporations. They might receive college scholarships. They might make more money than you make. They might get elected to political office. The question is, how will they use the power and privilege that comes with these opportunities?
King Lemuel's mom says to him, "Don't use your power to serve yourself." In verse 3, the concern is that Lemuel will try to build a large harem. This was something kings did in ancient times, but it was a distortion of power. Many wives created huge expenses for a king. I don't mean that as a put-down of women. In fact, the model for wisdom in the final section of the book—Proverbs 31:10-31—is a woman, not a prince or a king.
In verses 4-7, the queen mother is concerned about the abuse of alcohol. In the Bible wine can be a source of joy (see Deuteronomy 14:26, Psalm 104:14-15, Isaiah 25:6-8, or Isaiah 55:1). But it can also be misused (see Proverbs 20:1, Proverbs 23:20-21, 29-35, Isaiah 5:11-12 and 22, Ephesians 5:18, 1 Corinthians 6:10, and Galatians 5:19-21). Building large harems and abusing alcohol were possible ways of misusing power. In both cases the pattern of behavior is self-destructive. Verse 3 says that kings who give their strength to women can get destroyed. I think of King David, who ruined his career because of an adulterous relationship, and Solomon, who ruined his career because of all the wives he acquired—wives who led him astray. Verse 5 says that those who cope with the pressures of being king by drinking forget what they've decreed. I think of Elah, king of Israel, who was getting drunk when Zimri, one of his officials, assassinated him (1 Kings 16:9-10). I'm sure you've heard of Mother's Against Drunk Driving. Lemuel's mom was the founder of Mother's Against Drunk Ruling!
To dramatize her point against the abuse of alcohol, the mom says this in verses 6-7: "Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more." The queen mother is not recommending a "free beer for the poor program." She's using sarcasm to awaken Lemuel to the duties that go with his class and status. She's saying: "Don't use your power to serve yourself." Then, in verses 8-9, she's ready to state positively the lesson that is driving her words to her son: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
A mom who fears the Lord teaches her kids to use their strength to serve people in need. It is a sin to take advantage of other people—to exploit them. Using your resources—money, sex, or power—to hurt others and fulfill your own needs is wrong. For that reason, I'm thankful that my wife has always insisted that our kids look out for the welfare of the kids who were despised or ignored by others. She has always said, "You reach out to that boy over there that everyone else is picking on. You reach out to that girl who is ridiculed because she's out of style or doesn't have the social skills everyone else does." That's what Proverbs 31:1-9 calls moms and other influential people to do.
When I read the words of King Lemuel's mom, I think about Lillian Carter, mother of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter's father, a successful farmer, taught him to work hard. His mother, Lillian, was a nurse. She taught him compassion for the poor and marginalized. In Plains, Georgia, racial segregation was the rule of the day. But Lillian Carter fought it. She nursed their black neighbors even when they had no money. It's no wonder that Jimmy Carter will go down as possibly the greatest former president we've ever had in the United States. His work with Habitat for Humanity has been exceptional.
Living like King Jesus
When I read the words of King Lemuel's mom, I think about the greatest king who ever lived—a king whose kingdom was all about meeting the needs of the destitute, the widow, the orphan, the marginalized, and the poor. I'm referring to King Jesus, of course. At the beginning of his ministry—his reign as king—he stood up in a place of worship in his hometown and read some words from Isaiah the prophet which he applied to himself. Luke 4:18-19 records those words:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." When everyone looked at him, waiting for him to continue reading or to give the sermon for the day, he simply said, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Jesus was the kind of king King Lemuel's mother wanted Lemuel to be. In fact, Jesus calls all in his kingdom—those who call him their king—to live as he lived. Once, while at a dinner banquet, Jesus said to his host, "When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed" (Luke 14:13). Later in the New Testament, James summarizes it like this: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27).
But how can we teach our kids to do this, and how can we do what our mothers teach us when we're so selfish, so enamored with the idea of using our strength to satisfy ourselves? It's through the power of the gospel! When Jesus Christ paid the price for your sins in order to bring you to God, Scripture says that our Lord Jesus Christ, "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." He made the ultimate sacrifice so that through faith in him, he could make us rich by bringing us to God!
Have you become rich? Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ? Have you given your life to Christ? The relationship with God that he offers is a free gift of life—given to people like me and you who are lost without God in our lives. That's the gospel.
Once you've responded to the gospel and accepted Christ, then you live out the gospel by using your strength to serve people in need. Not out of guilt, but out of gratitude. Not to earn points with God, but because God has made you rich. Moms, you don't have to be perfect. You don't have to be super moms to your kids. Just teach them what really matters. Point them to Jesus, the one who was rich, yet for our sake became poor. Then teach them to follow Jesus' example, to use their strength to serve people in need!
To see an outline of Mathewson's sermon, click here.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________