“A gracious woman retaineth honour” (Proverbs 11:16). A gracious woman is an honourable woman, and would retain her honour in two ways: (1) She would strive all her days to retain a virtuous and honourable character, even as a strong man would use his strength to protect and preserve his riches. (2) She retains it even after death, for a good name is as a precious ointment. She being dead yet speaketh.

How does one define graciousness? Well, a gracious woman is one who puts grace into action! Grace is an active ingredient, and cannot but express itself.

How does one gauge graciousness? Well, the Bible says that it is not by outward physical adornment. It is instructive that both the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter commented on this point in inspired Scripture.

Paul says:

“Let women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array, but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works” (1 Tim 2:9).

Peter confirms:

“Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price” (1 Pet 3:3, 4).

Notice Paul and Peter are of one mind about this. Now, the worldly woman will use all that you read in Isaiah 3:18, and there is no doubt that they are successful in presenting an allurement of fleshly beauty.

There are many staggeringly beautiful women about, and Christian women should be aware of temptations that surround their husbands, for David was not above that kind of temptation.

A Christian woman is to keep herself attractive to her husband, but above all to have this real beauty of a gracious spirit and manner. Remember, it is not the bodily form that will capture a spiritual man, but an unpretentious, simple, gracious nature exuding the love of God!

The outward beauty of course, is corruptible; what will these glamorous women be like at 70? They cannot retain it. It is fading, transient and corruptible! Where then would be their honour? But a gracious lady retains her poise, her character, her refreshing loveliness into old age and even beyond death! Consider the list of godly women in Scripture who are remembered and honoured: Sarah, Hannah, Lois, Eunice, Anna, Mary, Dorcas, etc. Consider how in each of them graciousness is evident.

Now how do we define graciousness? Well, it appears to me to be a mixture of graces. Think of it as an amalgam of meekness, modesty, humility, and courtesy. I always associate it with gentleness and sweetness. I do not think there is anything more attractive than a gentle woman! Henry Martin, missionary to the Middle-East, wrote: “The power of gentleness is irresistible!” But a gracious Christian woman is not known only by her gentleness. Indeed, the Scripture particularly highlights her godliness, compassion, and speech. In my mind, these are the three qualities associated with graciousness that the contemporary Christian woman ought to pay especial attention to cultivate, for they are,—amongst other graces—most lacking today.
1. Godliness

Firstly, then, graciousness is associated with godliness. The apostle Paul particularly describes the obedient Christian women as “women professing godliness” (1 Tim 2:9).

The worldly woman paints a black spot, a beauty spot, on her face to attract, and to be taken notice of; but the gracious woman has a rare white heart of godliness that, unconsciously on her part, marks her out! Because she devotes her life to God and honours him, He works godliness in her, and honours her. Graciousness and Godliness are twin sisters that wear the same clothes, so that you cannot tell them apart. Where the one goes, so does the other.

The gracious woman lives “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim 2:2). She is one who worships God aright (for that is the meaning here), and she exhibits a good conduct to every one. Such an attitude will bring with it a life of peaceableness.

She exercises herself unto godliness (1 Tim 4:7). It is a matter of training, or spiritual exercising. Whilst I would not deny that bodily exercise is of benefit, yet in light of eternity, it is the spiritual activity that is the all-important manner of life. For, says Paul, “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is” (1 Tim 4:8), and “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12). Notice it is “live godly,” and not merely “talk godly.” It is not just to voice their religion, but to show it. They would love not in word only but in deed and in truth (1 Jn 3:18). Matthew Henry has rightly said: “Those who wear the livery, and bear the name of the crucified Redeemer will live according to strict rules of Christian religion.”
2. Compassion and Mercy

Secondly, graciousness is always, in the Scriptures, associated with compassion and mercy. For instance: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Ps 103:8) and “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion.” (Ps 111:4b). And so in the description of the virtuous or gracious woman, we are told: “She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy” (Prov 31:20). She is, in the words of Swinnock, not like the worldling whose “favour is deceitful and beauty is vain and who is full of words but barren in works.”

Good works, motivated by compassion, and mercy adorn her, so that she does not need to wear costly apparel or gold and pearls! Grace sits upon her brow easier than a jewelled tiara. Graciousness is her natural disposition. It is not forced, imitated, or put on. It is rather how she thinks, feels and reacts. Good works are the extension of a good and godly heart!

Mercy and compassion mixed with godliness fashions a woman of honour and graciousness. Oh, that Christian women would desire to dress after this fashion, rather than follow the fashions of this world, for only in this way will they beautify their husbands, families and churches with glorious examples of Christ-likeness, piety and virtue. Only in this way will they truly fulfil the Lord’s commandment: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
3. Speech

Now, thirdly, graciousness is always associated with the manner and content of speech. The Jewish Rabbis have a saying that: “Ten measures of speech descended from heaven, and women took away nine of them.” Now the gracious woman ought not to be charged with that. Rather, there should proceed from her lips speech of such wisdom, tenderness and sweetness that impresses all who come within earshot. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (Prov 31:26). “She has the law of love in her heart and the law of kindness in her mouth” says Charles Bridges. Notice it is described as a law! It rules her conversation; it governs her speech! And because it rules her, then it rules those who come under its sway.

We must, as Christians, be careful and prudent how we speak, for James tells us “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (Jas 3:5). But Grace can harness such wildness; can extinguish its natural tendency to enflame! The Scripture is emphatic on this fact. Consider:

· “The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself” (Ecc 10:12).

· “The mouth of the just bringeth forth wisdom: but the froward tongue shall be cut out” (Prov 10:31).

· “The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth” (Prov 10:20).

It is through garrulous and foolish words that peace in the home is shattered; husbands made angry; children embittered; friends annoyed; neighbours estranged, and the Church divided! Listen, says Paul in Ephesians 4:29,—“ Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” The word “corrupt” means “rotten” or “worthless.” “Talk that is rotten and spreads rottenness just as a bad apple” says Foulkes. On the other hand, the tongue can be a minister, who dispenses light, truth, warmth and goodness! Such are words suitable for the occasion at hand! “A word spoken in due season, how good is it! ” (Prov 15:23b)

Notice how the apostle Paul is concerned not only about how we live, but how we speak! In Colossians 4:6, he writes, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt.” As Christians, we live in the realm and environment of grace, and therefore we must speak as those who have experienced grace!

Our words must be influenced by grace. Someone who is a debtor to grace, must therefore discharge that debt, by speaking graciously! An awareness of God speaking graciously to us, should bring us to speak graciously to others. As salt makes some food more palatable, so grace makes the conversation of Christians acceptable! Bishop Taylor puts it quaintly but most pertinently, “The tongue was intended for an organ of the divine praises, but the devil often plays on it. So reason must go before it; and when it does not, repentance comes after it.”

No. The tongue is not to be forked as a viper, and to sting with poison. It is rather to be a minister of godliness, and a talent to be used for its Master’s glory. We have, of course, a blessed example in our Master, that “Grace is poured into [his] lips” (Ps 45:2) and the people “wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Lk 4:22).

Again Bishop Taylor states that, “Godliness on the tongue often is mightier than intellect.” It can dispute even against more powerful minds, so that its answers are softer and wiser, sweeter and better! I think if there is one area that Christian women ought to take great pains in cultivating, it is this matter of speech. The tongue is a servant to the heart, “for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts…” (Mt 15:19).

Lips are given to be a bolted door upon the tongue, and should only be opened when grace knocks from the inside. Biblical lips are gracious lips, that kiss with kindness and meaning,—not as Judas, who betrayed the Son of Man with a kiss, but those that impart tenderness, genuineness, graciousness, loveliness!
4. Conclusion

To the extent that you have a godly conduct, a godly heart and a godly tongue as described above, you will manifest a gracious spirit. The sooner you will be gracious, the sooner you will be glorious! Let Grace have her perfect work so as to strive against the world and all its seductions, in order to retain honour as a Christian woman. You have the Word to direct you, and the Spirit to empower you, so that this is not accomplished in your own strength and power! “Strength and honour are her clothing” (Prov 31:25a).

These are the spiritual garments woven out of her relationship to Christ. When she wears this garment, she will automatically be an instrument of grace in her home, for as Swinnock says: “A gracious wife satisfieth a good husband, and silenceth a bad one.” And moreover, what the LORD says concerning Jerusalem would also be applicable to her: “And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty” (Ezk 16:14).

“Christian graces are excellent orators and have a mighty power to persuade” (G. Hammond). It is better to live virtue than to command it. A gracious, virtuous bearing and conduct is a living, walking testimony to the grace of God in action. Women are forbidden to preach from pulpits, but your graces can preach powerful daily sermons. “It is not talking with the wise that will make you wise but walking as the wise” (Brooks). But it is walking and talking! “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Prov 25:11). Dress your lives in silver and your tongues in gold.

Have the lips of Hannah, silently speaking to God, but wisely to Eli. Have the heart of Lydia, to hear God’s Word. Have the hands of Dorcas, to do charitable works. Have thelove of Mary, who anointed Christ. Have the subjection of Sarah, who called Abram “lord.”

Have the wisdom of Lois and Eunice, that trained Timothy. Be a labourer for the Lord like Tryphena, and a servant of the Church like Phebe. Above all have the mind of Christ, and think on whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and good (Phil 4:8).

And then let those thoughts express themselves in a life of godliness, which will bring glory to God; comfort and satisfaction to your husband; eternal benefit to your children, (so that they will rise up and bless you) and enrichment to your neighbours and Church! W

“In common with man, she is called, where she is unmarried and dependent, to labour for her own support; a condition to which large portions of the community are necessarily subject by the circumstance of their birth. Industry is as incumbent upon her as upon the other sex, and indolence is as inexcusable in her as in man. But in the married state, her sphere of labour… is her family: and it belongs to the husband to earn by the sweat of his brow, not only his own bread, but that of the household (John Angell James, Female Piety: a Young Woman’s Friend and Guide, [SDG, 1994, r. 1860], 63-4)

The female heart is supposed to be the very dwelling-place of mercy, and an unfeeling woman is a libel upon her sex: formed by nature to weep with those that weep, and to minister to the bodily woes of humanity, she should enter into the design of Providence, and become a ministering angel in the chamber of sickness… We call upon you [therefore], without… abjuring the characters of wives and mothers,… to make it your business and your pleasure to visit the scenes of sickness and the abodes of poverty (ibid, 239)