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Thinking and Living Biblically in a Gender-nuteral Society - The Biblical Husband

Series: Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Sermon by Derek Thomas on Jul 23, 2003

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Psalm 128

“The Biblical Husband”

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas

I notice the title for today is “The Ideal Husband”… “Biblical Husband.” I don't like speaking on the subject unless Rosemary is sitting somewhere where I can eyeball her — or she can eyeball me, which is more important. And I thought maybe perhaps we could go to those familiar passages — Ephesians; I Peter 3 — which have been referred to several times; and from a distance. I thought, “Well, no, I won't take those passages. I'm sure somewhere along the line they’re going to be referred to, and I'm just going to be treading over territory.”

So my mind went to the Old Testament. I thought maybe that wonderful marriage between Manoah and his wife. (I'm not doing that, but I thought of that: Samson's parents.) You know, I preached on that once, and I think I called it “When He Treats Me as Though I'm Not There,” because in that story Manoah keeps on asking the angel who appears to Mrs. Manoah and tells her things, but doesn't actually tell Manoah these things…when the angel appears, he keeps asking the angel what is it that he's said, even though his wife has told him. It's as though he just doesn't believe his wife. But I'm not going to do that. [Laughter] Instead, I'm going to turn to Psalm 128.

Hear the word of God:

[It has a title, “A SONG OF ASCENTS,” or in some of your versions, “A SONG OF DEGREES,” maybe.]

“Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
You shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
“Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.
“The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
May you see your children's children!
Peace be upon Israel!”

Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy and inerrant word. Let's pray together


Father, now we turn, as we've been considering these last few days in the area of marriage, and we turn this morning to focus on a particular aspect of it. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Psalm 128 is one of the collections of Psalms known as “The Ascent Psalms” (or “The Song of Degrees” if you’re in the King James Version). We’re not absolutely sure what the reference, what the title refers to. In older times, in Puritan commentaries for example, a song of degrees…the Hebrew word there was often thought to be some musical annotation.

These days it's more popular in trying to discern the exact meaning of this Hebrew phrase to think of this collection of Psalms as a collection that was sung by pilgrims as they made their way from the Diaspora in various parts of Judah — maybe north in Israel, in Samaria — to Jerusalem for one of the stated feasts. It was mandatory for Jews to attend three of the stated feasts, like, for example, Passover or Pentecost, and they would come in droves and family clans — perhaps sometimes in large gatherings — in conferences, something like what we have here today. You can imagine them making their way, especially if they were coming from a distance. And indeed it seems as though this collection of Psalms actually does begin at some distance. Psalm 120 speaks of sojourning in Meshech, and dwelling amongst the tents of Kedar (and again there's a lot of discussion as to where exactly those are). One thing is certain: it's a long way away from Jerusalem.

When we come to Psalm 121, it's as though the psalmist has now come within sight of Jerusalem, ascending Mount Zion. And the expression “The Song of Ascents”…because wherever you are, if you’re heading towards Mount Zion you’re going uphill. If you go to Israel today and land in Tel Aviv airport, the journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is uphill.

“I lift up mine eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?”

[And the punctuation differs in differs translations. I think it is a question. ]

“From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, [or, “my safety cometh from the Lord”]

Who made heaven and earth.”

And then if you go to Psalm 122, he's in Jerusalem:

“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’
Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!”

Finally they've arrived in Jerusalem.

Well, I like to think of these Ascent Psalms as being a collection of songs that faithful Jews might have sung on their way to Jerusalem.

I. This psalm is a picture of a godly home.

One of the Psalms that they sang was a song about family life; a Psalm that patterns biblical discipleship as it is reflected, not just in our personal lives, but as it is reflected in the home and in the workplace. And what this Psalm does is to establish for us four basic things, the first of which is this: that what we have here is the picture of marriage and family as the ideal lifestyle…marriage and family as the ideal lifestyle. It's given from the perspective of the husband and father, and it pictures a godly home. The Psalm is about marriage and family and work, and it's a portrait of the blessed life. It tells us what the blessed life looks like.

So many of us spend our time longing to be free from the routine and the humdrum, drawn by what appears, at least on the surface, to be elegant and exciting…“The Lives of the Rich and Famous”…The Hollywood film stars. Possibly we imagine what would life be like?
And of course when we do that, we're fools. We’re fools if we really think for one moment that that's where true blessing and true happiness lies. And the Psalm here, Psalm 128, is unafraid to say that this kind of life, a husband with his wife and children, employed in gainful employment, this is where true happiness — true happiness — lies.

What this Psalm does is to give us a cameo portrait of idyllic existence, what true happiness actually looks like. It's like the Bible's “Focus on the Family” spot. It's saying for most of us, unless God gives you the gift of singleness, providentially puts us in special circumstances (and when God does that, He always enables us…He always enables us by His Sprit to reach that contentment that is necessary in order to live with God's calling and gifting).... Unless God gives us that calling and gifting, this is the ideal life.

It's about the routine of employment. “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, and the seventh is a Sabbath, a rest.”

It's about taking delight in the wife of your youth, and the perspective here is from the viewpoint of the husband, but I don't think we're doing any disservice by saying it's also true in the reverse. The perspective here is that of Proverbs 5 of delighting in the wife of your youth.

It's about having children and raising them (yes, with all the stresses and strains that that brings).

And the Psalm is saying it doesn't get any better than this. It doesn't get any better than this. This was God's plan from the very beginning. In the opening pages of Genesis, in Eden, as we've been considering in the past few days, this is God's plan. This is God's purpose. It's about marriage. It's about having children. It's about rearing children for the glory of God.

The gay and lesbian relationships are not part of God's plan. That's not a part of God's plan.

And divorce isn't part of God's plan. Now, He may tolerate it because of the sinfulness of people, of man. It may become necessary. But it can never be thought of as an option, and rejecting it allows for the greater securities that when problems arise, the first course of action is resolution.

This is what happiness looks like. And the Psalm says, you know, it doesn't get any better than this, of marriage and children and work. And you know, there are so many people in the world who are trying to get out of that. They’re trying to get out of their marriages, and they’re trying to get away from their children, and they’re trying to get out of their jobs. That's what the fall does. That's what sin does. Do I need to say it? There is no way apart from a virgin birth and parthenogenesis…there's no way of having children other than through sexual relationships, and that too is part of God's design, and that too is part of what this Psalm is talking about. It's about family life, and conjugal relationships and children. Isn't that part of the glory of the Reformation? That the Reformation saw something of the beauty of that?

You know, Thomas Aquinas said (building on Aristotle) that the birth of a girl was the result of male embryos going wrong; that while they were useful to keep men from concupiscence, or roving passion, in all other respects they were inferior. Even the great preacher of the early church, and perhaps the greatest preacher of the early church, Chrysostom, whose commentary on John and the sermons that he preached on John's Gospel is sublime…even Chrysostom denied that Adam and Eve could have sexual relationships before the fall. Origen had opined that had sin not entered the world, children would have been “propagated in some angelic manner”–whatever that means. Gregory of Nyssa suggested that Adam and Eve had no sexual desire. And one thanks God for Luther, despite all of his excesses, and he was a man of excess. [I remember once on Sunday evenings bringing folk back to the manse, and they tended to be on the elderly side. And we’d have supper and talk, and eat cake and all that stuff that you do on Sunday evenings, especially in Northern Ireland. And I had just acquired one of Luther's volumes of Table Talk; I had bought it second-hand in a bookstore in Belfast. I hadn't even opened it. It was sitting on the desk, and one of the guests said, “Oh, Luther!” and picked it up, and I said, “Yes, let me read a bit of it to you.” And I had to stop, because the next sentence was a little rude, and definitely not for the ears of these folk! Luther could be like that.] But one thanks God for Luther, and one thanks God for Calvin, celebrating the glory of marriage and the sound of little children.

Could God have created a race of androgynous beings? I don't think so, because I think that male and femaleness is actually expressive of the image of God. (And the fact is that He didn't.) So what we have here first of all is a picture of the ideal life. It doesn't get any better than this: of being married to someone that you love, of being married to someone whom your heart has fallen in love with, and to have children…the blessings of children. And to have a job, have work to do for the glory of God. It doesn't get any better than that, and that's what the Psalm is celebrating.

II. This psalm gives the principle of companionship.

Secondly, and I won't spend too much time on this because we've already been down this road, so let me just state the principle and expand on it just very briefly. It deserves more than I'm going to give it now, but it also gives us the principle of companionship.

The principle of companionship… “Blessed…” and it's almost like bookends. It's almost like an inclusio here, in verse 1 and again in verse 4: “Blessed….” This is the blessed life. This is the happy life. Happiness because of the relationship that is formed between a husband and a wife, and parents and their children.

And they’re sitting — notice! — they’re sitting at a meal together.

“Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.”

Around your table…isn't that an interesting expression? As though the psalmist, when he wants to think about the blessedness of family life and home life, what does he think about? He thinks about the dining room table!

Now my friends, there is nothing more important in building godliness and a godly home than the kitchen table. The kitchen table — it's the most important piece of furniture that you have in your house. Now I want to say that some of you have not sat at the kitchen table for so long, you don't even know where it is! You haven't sat with your wife or your children and had a meal together and talked together, laughed together, joked together, and told stories together about what you did that day, and read the Bible together and prayed together, and sang a Psalm together…you haven't done that for so long, you've forgotten what it's like. I'm saying the Psalm here is giving you a cameo portrait of the godly life. This is the way of godliness. You want practical godliness? Then cook a meal, and get your children, and sit down and take time to eat it. Not fast food; slow food! [Laughter] This is slow-food-godliness.

I think our Puritan forefathers and forebears would be horrified at our lifestyle, the pace of our lives. Now to be sure, they weren't living in our day. They weren't living in the rat race that so many of us are, with all of our commitments and with all of our busy-ness. They weren't. But do you know what they would say to us? That if your lives are too busy to sit down once a day with your family, with your wife and children and eat together and talk together, and laugh together, and read Scripture together, and pray together and sing together…if your lifestyle is too busy for that, then your lifestyle is too busy. It's as simple as that. Your lifestyle is too busy, and you need to change it. You need to do whatever it takes. And maybe that will involve some self-denial, and maybe that will involve some self-denial in your pocket and in your bank account, but your family is more important than your bank account, and your children are more important than your bank account.

And I speak to myself, and I preach to myself, and I reprimand myself, because this is what godliness looks like: a husband and a wife and children, and they’re sitting at a table. Do you have a kitchen table? You know, it's not the SUV with a cup holder! That's not the image! [Laughter] That wasn't in the psalmist's mind! It's a kitchen table, and the whole picture to me speaks of time and slowness; where the day comes almost to a stop. It's a bit like those slow-motion bits of The Matrix. [It's about to come on us again, so let's get back into it.] [Laughter] But everything seems to slow down.

Companionship. You know, one of the things that I learned perhaps the most — just one of them of many things. When I was 23, 24…graduate student of Aberystyth University, I lived for a year or so with Geoff Thomas. Many of you know Geoff Thomas. He's a Baptist, so many of you should know Geoff Thomas! Very close friend of mine, and influential–hugely influential. When I was converted he became my first minister, so for that first five years I had Calvinism coming in my ears and out of my ears and into my pores and out of my pores every day. And I lived with him in his manse for about a year as a student. And coming into that manse in the evening and sitting at the kitchen table — and it was bedlam! He had three daughters. There were four girls and two men; and the girls, all of them were lively, and the conversation was lively. And there was always lots of laughter. Geoff could tell really bad jokes! Some of you get his emails. They’re long, long, long emails about every aspect of his life and personality — where he's been and who he's talked to, and bits of conversation. And that was the meal table. That's what it was like. And some of us have forgotten what that's like, because even if we do sit down at the kitchen table, it's no more than two or three minutes: “Let's get this meal over with and let's go!” And sometimes, my friends, the greatest pressure on that kind of godly home life is the church. It's the church, with all of its programs and busy-ness, so that you’re running not just to soccer — you soccer moms — but the church itself can sometimes be the very means of keeping us from this paradigm of godliness.

III. The pattern of male leadership in the home.

Thirdly, not only do we have the picture of the ideal lifestyle and principle of companionship, but thirdly we have the pattern of male leadership in the home.

“The pattern of male leadership in the home….” Yes, I'm putting it that way because that's the way the Psalm puts it. And it's an important issue. But this Psalm has something to say to us about leadership, about male leadership. Men, husbands, are you at home? And do you think of your home as a treasure? And when you are at home, are you really at home? It's almost impossible to say this without sounding chauvinistic and controlling, and there are bad models. There are bad models. We've been thinking about them. Even in the Christian church, there are bad models of male leadership in the home — of dominance and control, and tyranny on the one hand, and effeminateness and the loss of maleness on the other.

And it has to be said that the church needs men to lead here. Our church desperately needs men in leadership. I think I could do a poll…[I've got that dating poll, by the way, Don. That dating form. I have it, and my daughter has had it.] But I think I could do another one just for the women this morning. Do you want your husband to take more leadership in the home? And I think I would get an overwhelming answer in the affirmative. I think it would surprise you. I think even in godly Reformed churches, I think it would surprise you just how women…. Now, I know there are exceptions. I know that for some the issue is on the other side. The issue is one of control and dominance and tyranny; I understand that. There was a time when little boys were little boys and little girls were little girls, and that was it. “A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away.” [Laughter]

Christian families today generally need a good dose of male leadership. I know that sensitivity and gentleness and vulnerability are the “in” words, and “getting in touch with your female side.” I understand that. I don't understand what that last phrase means, but I understand that's part of the vocabulary of our time. Homes and marriages where there's strength, and courage, and determination.

Allow me a couple of points to help us see the biblical perspective from which this Psalm is written, and of which it is a cameo portrait. What we have here is paralleled, I think, by two statements that Peter makes. One is whenever he refers to women — actually, wives at this point — he refers to them, you remember, as “the weaker vessel.” “The weaker vessel…” It's got Peter into a lot of trouble! What was he saying? What did he mean? Well, there are two opinions. We've heard one, I think, in the course of our conference. It could be a comment about physical strength, and that's certainly true. One thinks of golf, and the ladies’ tee. [If you play golf like me, you’re glad of the ladies’ tee!] [Laughter] And I'm sure it's not needed for every woman golfer, and if you do those exercises that are on early morning TV, you know the ones that are on at 5 or 6 in the morning, I'm sure you don't need the ladies’ tee. But for most, for most that's true. She is the weaker vessel. I think that's true universally to this day. And maybe that's what Peter is saying.

But I don't think that's what Peter is saying. Peter, I think, is saying that by marrying–because he's talking here not about women as women, but as women as wives, and he's using the particular Greek word for wives–he's saying that in marrying she is placing herself in submission and in a position of vulnerability, and in that respect, she is the weaker vessel. And in that respect, she must not be taken advantage of. And you must not, as a husband, play the heavy–the heavy-handed bully. That's one statement.

Another statement is the remark that Peter makes in I Peter 3:7, that husbands should treasure their wives, their brides, “so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” We've already heard something about it. To treasure your wives, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. I don't know about you, husbands, men, but that text always makes me afraid. Actually, to be honest, it terrifies me. And it would terrify me all the more were it not for grace, of course. But it still terrifies me. It still brings me up short: the possibility, the sheer possibility that some of my prayers are not being answered because I have not been treating my wife with enough respect, that I haven't treasured her.

Have you ever found treasure? I have. It wasn't a lot of treasure, but it was treasure. I was a minister in Belfast, and I think I'm far enough away now…though I probably need to cut the tape for about ten seconds! But I wasn't paid very much. It was ministry. It was service. And life was hard. It was Christmas Eve, and I was going for a walk in the park that was just a mile from where I lived — maybe half a mile from where I lived, where I'd been on occasions to unwind. It was a beautiful forest with lanes, and especially made for walks. And there was a one-mile walk and there was a five-mile walk, and I think there was a twelve-mile walk. I did the mile walk fairly often. Christmas Eve…and it was going to take me, you know, twenty minutes, just to unwind. I'd been to visit someone, I think, and was on my way home, and I thought, “I’ll do my exercise.” Walking along, and I look down on the floor, and a Ј20 note! That's about $30. A Ј20 note, on the floor! I look around, you know; I pick it up. And I walk a few more steps, and there's another one! [Right! My eyes are on the floor now!] I walk along a little bit more, and sure enough there's another one, and in the distance I see a little bit of paper and I go up and it's another one. Four of them I find. Eighty pounds. What is that? About $125 dollars or so, which was a lot of money. This was back in 1980. It was significant on Christmas Eve. It was like manna from heaven! [Laughter] And, you know, I go and I walk, and I go around twice… [Laughter] …just in case I'd missed one, but there were no more. Treasure. And I'm driving home, and you know, as I open the front door and I'm beginning to tell my wife the story, I know what I've got to do. I've got to go to the police station. Somebody's dropped this…you know, they put their hand in their pocket to get a handkerchief or something, or a piece of candy or gum or something, and they've dropped it. And it's Christmas. They've lost this money on Christmas. I've got to go to the police. So I drive to the police station, and he tells me — this big burley constabulary policeman tells me, “You know, if nobody has claimed this in six months, it's yours.” (Six months? And this is Christmas Eve?) So anyway, the long and the short of it was in six months nobody had claimed it. But you know, this was treasure. I had told everyone! I had told everybody in the church; I'd used it as a sermon illustration on several occasions. Everybody knew when the six months would be up. They were asking me, “When's the six months up?” [Laughter] So what do I do when I get the Ј80? I have to give it to the church. You know, there was nothing for it. I just had to give it to the church. It was treasure!

And husbands, the sheer possibility…the sheer possibility that some of our prayers are not being answered because we're not treasuring our wives…. You know, this little cameo portrait is saying to us, husbands, you've got to treasure your homes. And the devil is saying, “Give me your home. You can have the church. You can do whatever you want in the church. Just give me your home.” I'm convinced that's what the devil is often saying: You can have the church, you can have all the excitement you want; you can sing until your hearts are bursting; you can do whatever you want; just give me your home, because when that seed is sown in your heart and you open the door of your house, and if you’re not going back to treasure, if you’re going back to a prison, all the good that that seed that was sown in the church will disappear.” And the devil is saying, men, “Give me your home.”

And you know, some of us have said, “It's a deal. It's a deal. Just let me be honored and praised, and thought highly of in the church, and you can have my home.” And what this Psalm is saying is that one of the greatest gifts that God will ever give you is a godly home, and the responsibility for that is on you, men. It's your responsibility. It's not your wife's responsibility. It's not your children's responsibility. It's yours.

IV. The primacy of fear of God.

Fourth thing: the primacy of fear of God. And you notice how it begins and almost ends in that way? There's a little section of prayer at the end of verses 5 and 6 about God prospering Jerusalem, and you seeing blessing throughout your days. That's something that flows from this little cameo portrait. But do you notice it begins and it ends with the fear of the Lord? Verse 1 and verse 4, they’re like bookends. The classic Hebrew device in literature, especially in poetry, that ‘all of what I'm saying here is subsumed, is enclosed by the fear of the Lord.’ “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and they that lack…lack the beginning…have neither middle nor end,” Bunyan once said.

Do you see what this is saying? If I can sort of do a Piper-esque for a second, he would say something like this: “God is ultimate, not marriage.” You know, at the end of the day it's not the blessedness of the home that's the ultimate thing. God is the ultimate thing. God is the ultimate thing. Why does anything exist? Marriage, family life, routine of six-day working week, recreation, whatever? The glory of God…the glory of God.

“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth.
Everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory,”

God says through Isaiah.

What does the fear of God look like? Let me tell you what it looks like. If it is the beginning and end of everything, this is what it looks like:

It is to revere His eternality; to make our minds want to explode with the infinite thought that God never had a beginning.

It is to revere His knowledge that would make the National Library of Congress (whatever it's called), look like a paperback.

It is to revere His authority that means that the devil cannot move an inch without God's permission.

It means to revere His providence that not a single hair of your head turns gray without the decree and the outworking of the sovereignty of God.

It means to revere His power, that He can walk on water and turn water into wine, and calm a storm that is on the sea.

It is to revere His purity, because He never had one bad thought.

It is to revere His trustworthiness, that not a single promise of His will fail.

It is to revere His justice that renders all moral accounts either on the cross or in hell.

It is to revere His wrath, that one day there will be men and women who will call out for the rocks and the mountains to embrace them and hide them from the fierceness of the unmitigated wrath of God.

It is to revere His grace that forgives the penitent, that hears the cry of the lost, that wipes away the tears of the distressed and troubled, and never gives up…and never gives up.

And it is to revere His love.

And, men, husbands, we are to love our wives as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that God so loved us in our foul-smelling sin that He comes to us in Jesus Christ and says, “I love you, and I give myself for you. I deny myself for you.”

“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,
He made Himself of no reputation.”

He emptied Himself. That is to say, in addition to what He already was, He did not stand upon His own rights, and He did not stand upon His own dignity, but He made Himself nothing. He made Himself nothing. And, men, husbands, the fear of the Lord in your home is to make yourself nothing, so that your wife might be everything. You treat her as royalty. You treat her as you might treat a king or a queen. And that's the beautiful little cameo portrait that we have here in the Psalm.

Do you notice it's right in the middle of the Psalm…right in the middle of the Bible? As though when you opened your Bible at the very center, God is saying this is the picture of godliness. This is the picture of what it means to love and embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and Prophet, and Priest, and King.

And may God give each one of us greater strength, greater determination, greater willingness to walk that path of obedience, denying ourselves, taking up a cross, and following after Jesus, and knowing the blessedness and the joy and the happiness that will flow into our home as a consequence. May God so grant it, for His name's sake.

Let's pray together.

Our Father in heaven, we thank You for this beautiful Psalm. We fall so far short in our own marriages, in our own relationships with our dear brides, in the relationships that we have with our children. Forgive us our sins. Wash us and cleanse us as we pour ourselves out before You again, and enable us by the power of Your Spirit. And cause us, we pray, to own our homes as sanctuaries where Christ might be honored and glorified. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.