Try a Little Tenderness Print
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Thursday, 10 June 2010 08:29

It may have been a lousy book, I don’t know, but it had a great title. Many years ago, somewhere I saw a book entitled The Velvet Covered Brick and thought it expressed a profound biblical truth wonderfully.

A husband must be hard in order to take on masculine responsibility. A husband must be soft in order to avoid crushing those for whom he is responsible. Maintaining these twin imperatives in balance requires great wisdom, far more than men may have apart from the grace of God.

Some men are all velvet—the kind Christ contemptuously dismissed as fit only for a life in politics. “But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses” (Matt. 11:8).

Other men are all brick, mostly between the ears. “Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb” (1 Sam. 25:3).

Other men prefer to alternate between the two. Brick when angry, abdicating velvet when covenantally lazy. These men do not even know what a covenant is. They manage to procure all the negative consequences of both kinds of sin. This is the kind of husband whose wife thinks he is a tyrant, although he has never made one clear decision in all their years together.

The Bible says that a husband must not be harsh or bitter with his wife (Col. 3:19). At the same time, the husband must provide godly strength and leadership. “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:24). The problem is how to be hard enough to lead and soft enough . . . to lead.

Peter instructs husbands in this difficult art of marital wisdom. “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7). A husband with understanding— one who dwells with his wife “according to knowledge”— is a husband who honors his wife as a weaker vessel. Both elements are here—his strength over against her weakness, and his honor of her equality with him as a fellow Christian, an heir of grace together with him. And this brings us to our point, which is that a man cannot honor a woman unless he is tender with her. A man cannot be an obedient husband unless he honors and respects his wife. But this is not what fawning courtiers can do, or what the Nabals of this world want to do.

The Bible tells men to be hard, and it tells them to be soft. Around each command, we find men clustering according to their own wishes and desires. One husband hears the command to be hard, loud and clear. And so he engages himself to be harsh, critical, unloving, dense, imperious, stubborn, unbending, idiotic, and proud. Another man hears the command to be soft, and so he vacillates, waffles, abdicates, whines, complains, suffers, agonizes, and goes generally limp.

A man who does the former does so in the name of strength, but has no notion of what biblical strength really is. A man who does the latter does so in the name of kindness, but has no idea what biblical kindness actually is.

A man who is not strong enough to be tender is not strong at all. Everything he projects is nothing but counterfeit bluster. But this is easy for us to miss. For example, we like to think that Pharisees were excessively righteous, but this was not Christ’s complaint against them. He charged them with hypocrisy, and said that the Pharisees were ethical slackers. “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). In the same way, we tend to think that a man who yells and blusters and intimidates has an excess of strength. We think he has a surplus. But biblically understood, he is actually a covenant wimp.

We should see that instructed by biblical wisdom, strength and tenderness are not actually two different things. We may picture the two together by means of various analogies in combination—velvet and brick— but the two things together actually constitute one virtue, a virtue we may identify as essential to biblical masculinity.

This is why he should understand the foundations of his strength, and the necessary results of it, and with understanding, try a little tenderness.


This article first appeared as the Husbandry column in C/A 11.2.


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Last Updated on Thursday, 10 June 2010 08:41