Marriage Preparations that Please the Lord
Just about every bookstore — Christian or otherwise — has a ton of books on how to prepare for marriage. Most of these books deal with topics like choosing the right mate, temperament and personality tests, relational skills, and planning the wedding itself.
My concern today is a little more basic than any of these things. It has to do with you as an individual. Are you, as an individual, prepared for marriage? Obviously, those of you who have yet to be married need to ask yourselves this question. You need to take an inventory of yourself to see if you have matured enough in the faith to assume the responsibilities of the marital covenant. But even those of you who are already married need to run down the checklist once in a while, just to make sure that you’re staying on track. And parents need to consider this question as you train your children for married life.
I’ve chosen to consider Psalm 128 this morning because this text deals with this very subject. Most commentators say that this psalm describes the “temporal blessings of true piety.” While this is certainly an accurate description, it is also an inadequate one. If fails to mention that this psalm is particularly about the family. In fact, it was probably sung by the Jews as they were leaving Jerusalem to return home after their annual feasts. It encouraged them to consider the blessing of God upon everyday, domestic life as they made their way home. Therefore, I think Martin Luther captured the essence of Psalm 128 better when he dubbed it “a wedding psalm for Christians.”
Psalm 128 rejoices in the blessings of a godly home. Its thrust is to show you that the basis of peace and tranquility within the home is nothing less than the fear of God.
God’s Blessing is Grounded in Godly Fear
This psalm identifies its theme in the first verse: Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways. In other words, a person can be happy in his home — really, truly happy — only to the degree that he fears the Lord. Yet, it’s not enough simply to fear the Lord. This verse also reminds us that God’s blessing requires us to walk in his ways. We must obey his Word.
The fear of God is a rare commodity these days. When I was just starting out in the ministry twenty-two years ago, I had to deal with a man who habitually absented himself from worship for no reason. I tried to call on him both at his home and at his office, but he always hid himself in a back room when he saw me coming and refused to come out to speak with me. I asked Rev. Hart, who was overseeing my internship at the time, about this. Having been this man’s pastor previously, he said simply, “He has no fear of God.”
In Psalm 36, David complained that his enemies boasted in their hearts that they did not fear God (v. 1). Romans 3:18 says that lack of godly fear is a hallmark of sin. Believers, on the other hand, are marked by a loving fear of God (Neh. 5:9, 15; II Cor. 7:1; Eph. 5:21).
So, what is the fear of God? Before we answer this, we have say what it is not. It is not a consuming dread of the Almighty. If unbelievers do not dread God now, there will come a day when they will. As far as we’re concerned, lthough the perfect holiness of God should inspire each of us with an awareness of his terror, so that we understand that our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), we must also understand that we no longer stand under that condemnation, but have been incorporated into his family. Therefore, the fear of God that Psalm 128 encourages is a childlike reverence for and trust in God that teaches us to humble ourselves in his presence and to expect all good things from him.
Verse 1 teaches us that those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways have his blessing upon their lives. Note that this applies to everyone in the home. The promise of divine blessing is not restricted to parents, nor is it restricted to children. It’s not limited to males or females, to those of a certain age or to those who rank higher in order of birth. It’s not confined to people of a particular nationality, skin color or language. Worldly riches and power do not determine who has it. Rather, God promises his blessing to everyone who fears him and walks in his ways.
Some people our present life as a necessary evil, a curse that we have to endure that really has no meaning or purpose. In this verse, the psalmist corrects this kind of thinking. He reminds you that this present life is also a blessing from God. How can it be otherwise, since we are already joint-heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ? In fact, it is so true that this life is a blessing that the Word of God even commands us to rejoice in our trials. James 1:2–3 says, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
What more could we possibly want? Our lives are filled with the grace of God and with the God of all grace. With these we should be more than satisfied.
Blessings on Our Labors
Verse 2 increases our confidence in God’s promise by reminding us that the Lord specifically blesses our work: For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. (Ps 128:2). Interestingly, this verse doesn’t command us to work hard. Rather, it just assumes that we will. And this is a just assumption because the fear of God that teaches us to humble ourselves before our Maker also instructs us to accept his call to service.
In particular, this verse promises two things to those who fear the Lord. First, it promises that God will give us both work and the strength to do that work, so that we have no excuse whatsoever for being idle. Our days upon this earth are few and they are short. They are too precious to squander with inactivity or silly pursuits. In fact, the Word of God teaches you to do the opposite. You are to redeem the time, because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
But our text promises something more. Not only does it assure us that God gives us work, it also promises that God will allow us to enjoy the fruit of our work. In other words, it’s not enough that we labor. We must also take the time to enjoy both our labor and its rewards. Why? Because both come from the Lord. Again, we are reminded of what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes: It is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God (Eccles. 5:18–19).
Psalm 127:2 gives the other side of this truth, viz., those who do not conduct their business with a firm trust in God will find neither their labor nor their rest profitable. It is vain, wrote the psalmist, for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. This vanity that Ecclesiastes warns against is living our lives is living our lives under the sun instead of under the Son.
The point here is that, although God promises blessing to those who fear him, we cannot just sit around with our hands stretched out waiting for him to fill them. We have to work hard as if everything depended on us, but at the same time realize that our effort will only be productive if it has the blessing of heaven.
Now, apply this to yourselves as individual believers and individual members of your families. That’s what the psalmist encourages you to do when he uses the singular pronoun: Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. Don’t think that God actually gives his blessings only to others, but not to you! Take comfort in the fact that his promises have your name written all over them! Expect him to do for you everything that he said!
But when the psalmist wrote, And it shall be well with thee, did he promise that your life will always be filled with roses and champagne? Did he guarantee that you’ll never have the heartaches and problems that you see in others? No; rather, he wants you to understand that, even when your roses fade and your champagne goes flat, God will nonetheless bring good out of it for you. Consider Joseph. His jealous brothers sold him into slavery and pretended that he was dead. In Egypt, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape, which landed him squarely in jail. And although he correctly interpreted the butler’s dreams, the butler failed to remember him. For years it seems that Joseph’s life was an endless stream of wilted flowers. But God had a reason for it all. Eventually, the Lord elevated Joseph to be second in command throughout all the land of Egypt, and Pharaoh commissioned him specifically to manage the forthcoming famine. It was only then that he learned why he had to endure all of his earlier hardships. It was to save his family — the family that had sold him years before — to ensure the coming of the Messiah and his kingdom. He explained it to his brothers in these words: But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive (Gen. 50:20).
So, don’t ever loose heart. It will be well with you. It may not be well when you think it should be well. You may hit “rock bottom” many times before it all makes sense. But God’s Word says that it will be well with you, and you must believe that.
Blessings on Our Families
According to verse 3, the Lord also blesses the families of those who fear him. In fact, a man’s family should be counted as one of his greatest earthly blessings. He should never think of his wife and children as thorns and briars. To the contrary, his wife should be considered a tender and fruitful vine, and his children, olive plants gathered joyously around his table.
The psalmist wrote that a godly man’s wife is as a fruitful vine by the sides of his house. The point here is not that she lives outside the home and clings to the stucco, but that she is the one whose grace and spiritual fruit adorn the home. When visitors come, they note her fruitfulness first. They see a house that is orderly, where the husband and children are dressed in nice clothes and fed well. They discern that her home is a center of love, joy and peace. A godly wife will encourage everyone in the home to love the Lord with all their hearts and to love their neighbors as themselves.
The children, on the other hand, are like olive shoots (כִּשְׁתִלֵי) gathered around the table. This is quite a picturesque description that would have been easily understood by those who first sang this psalm. Olive trees, even old gnarled ones, are constantly producing shoots from their underground roots. These shoots, when allowed to grow, develop into new olive trees. First one pops up, then another, then another, and so forth.
Although I’ve never had an olive tree, I have a sense of what the psalmist meant. Before we moved to Napoleon, Ohio, twenty years ago, the deacons had removed a plum tree from the side yard of the parsonage but they left the stump in the ground. Until they finally removed the stump, we had little plum trees all over that part of the yard.
An abundance of unwanted olive or plum trees can be really annoying, but children, with all of their youthful curiosity and joy, springing up around the table of a man who fears the Lord are a tremendous blessing. The previous psalm says that children are an heritage of the LORD and a reward (Ps. 127:3). It goes on to say that the man is happy who has his quiver full of them (v. 5). I understand that there were two sizes of quivers used by the ancient peoples. The smaller one held about twelve arrows, and the larger one could accommodate about twenty. If so, it seems that none of us has yet reached the fullest measure of God’s blessing. In any case, a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his children, as Spurgeon (who had only two sons) wrote, but it certainly is enriched by it, especially if his children are believing and godly.
In verse 4 the psalmist reminds us again that the promise of blessing comes from God: Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. The God of the Bible always shows himself faithful and true to his Word.
We should not infer from anything in this psalm that God does not bless believers who are not married or have no children. Remember that Jesus had neither. To the contrary, this psalm tells us how God blesses faithful men who are also family men. It shows that he is the God of the family, as well as the God of the individual who fears him and walks in his covenant.
A Prayer for God’s Blessing
The last two verses of this psalm are the psalmist’s prayer for God’s continued blessing to his people.
To begin with, the psalmist, having reminded us of God’s numerous and wonderful temporal blessings, asked God to increase our spiritual blessings even more. He prayed for God to bless his people out of Zion.
Zion was originally the Jebusite stronghold in Jerusalem that David conquered early in his reign and made the capital of his kingdom. Subsequent Biblical writers used Zion to refer either to the city as a whole or to one of its parts. It was particularly identified with the mount on which the Ark of the Covenant rested after David brought it to Jerusalem. This was the same place where Solomon would later build the temple. Toward the close of the Old Testament, Zion stood for the people who worshiped at the temple, i.e., the church of the Old Testament. It was, after all, the place where Jehovah, the God of the covenant, met with his people.
The Lord’s blessing surrounds Jerusalem. In particular, it allows the man who fears God to see the good of Jerusalem all his days. In other words, a godly man will take note of the prosperity of the Christ’s church. Although there are times when it seems that the church has been delivered over to captivity, the man who fears the Lord understands that this is never really so. Jesus Christ never abandons his throne!
Beloved, you need to pray that God will grant you this blessing. Ask him to open your eyes so that you can see the church advancing in this fallen world. Pray also for your children, and for your children’s children while you are at it.
And next, the psalmist reminds you that the Lord will continue to bless those who fear him with temporal good, specifically a long life. A long life is the crown of God’s earthly blessings. The fifth commandment connects a long life with honoring one’s parents. Other passages encourage us with the same promise. Solomon wrote, Children’s children are the crown of old men (Prov. 17:6). And Job, after his health, family and property were restored, lived to see his son’ sons to the fourth generation (Job 42:16). What an amazing blessing!
A man who fears the Lord looks forward to seeing his family grow in numbers. He wants his children to produce more children, and his grandchildren likewise. But the goal is not just not just to have a large family, but to increase the number of homes where faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to the law of God are always front and center. A godly man will not only rejoice when this happens, but he will raise his children with an eye toward making it so.
This psalm closes with a prayer for peace and prosperity of all those who put their trust in the Lord. We are hereby assured that God will grant these blessings to us as well.
Preparing for Marriage
Now, what does all of this have to do with marriage preparations that please the Lord?
Very simply: this passage describes the kind of person who is ready for marriage. And you are not ready for marriage until you meet these qualifications. You see, the mere fact that a person has turned eighteen, twenty-five or even eighty-five doesn’t mean that he’s ready for the responsibilities of a family yet. And, on the other hand, I’ve known people under eighteen who were more than ready. Age by itself is not the key. Neither is a college education or a good job.
This psalm begins with the most fundamental qualification of all, viz., a believer is ready for marriage when he has a faithful walk with the Lord. How can any Christian possibly think that he is ready to start a new home if he does not diligently seek the face of God for himself? If he is not wholly devoted to walking in God’s ways, he cannot help anyone else do so. So, as you young people mature, please make the first verse of this psalm your highest priority!
Second, make sure you have a good work ethic. You can’t enjoy the labor of your hands, if your hands don’t labor. Proverbs 6:9–11 describe a man given to laziness as one who is addicted to sleep: How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man. Sloth results in poverty. Diligent labor, on the other hand, brings God’s blessing, happiness and joy.
Before a man takes on the responsibilities of a family, he has to be able and willing to provide for a family. Proverbs 24:27 says, Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house. What “making the field fit” means may vary from person to person. To some it may require having a stable job, while to others it may necessitate an advanced degree. Just remember, though, that a man who does not provide for his family is worse than an infidel (I Tim. 5:8).
Third, you need to appreciate what it means to have a Christian family. Unbelievers have no trouble finding spouses, and siring children takes no effort at all. But having a wife and making babies does not make a man a husband and a father. Rather, a husband and a father, according to Psalm 128, is one who rejoices in his family. He takes care of his wife and children, showing them love, faithfulness and tenderness. Instead of serving his needs, much less his desires, he makes sure that he satisfies first the needs of those around him. A godly man is overwhelmed with joy and gratitude as his wife and children grow in their love for the Lord and in their desire to help others. Indeed, he longs to see them reach their fullest potential in the service of Jesus Christ.
And finally, a person ready for marriage, according to Psalm 128, longs for the peace and prosperity of Zion — the church. He prays for it. He looks for it with overwhelming anticipation. He labors for it within the context of his own family.
Beloved, the Bible has a lot more to say about preparing for marriage. Many things go into it. But nothing is more important than self-preparation.
Are you prepared? Whether you’re already married, contemplating marriage, not expecting to enter the marital state for a long, long time, or expecting never to be married, are you ready? Are you working toward being the kind of person who, fearing and obeying God, finds blessing in his service?
Marriage can be a wonderful blessing to those who enter into it with God’s blessing, but without God’s blessing it can also be hell on earth.
May God shower those whom he has called to single life the blessings of single life, and may he also richly bless those whom he has called to married life! Whether single or married, let us diligently seek the grace and favor of Christ’s kingdom! Amen.
 Taken from JFB, in loc.