Category Archives: Marriage

Marriage Makes a Poor Idol

Tim Keller, in a 2009 sermon:

Kathy and I, before we were married, had really good prayer lives. Neither of us really thought we were going to get married to anybody. We got married, and without our knowing it, our prayer life kind of went into the toilet.

Why?

Well, why do you have to pray to God when all you could do is just call on the phone?

John Newton said the worst thing about a good marriage is the problem of idolatry. For many years, we had no idea how poor our prayer life was because we had made idols out of each other. We didn’t see it that way. We didn’t understand that. But when bad sickness came to both of us we realized our prayer life was nothing like it should have been. The best thing that happened to us was our idols were in jeopardy. It gave us a prayer life back.

Awakening to a false sense of security in a spouse is often gauged by the erosion of the personal prayer life. It’s a hard lesson, but a good one.

The First Sin and Unequal Yoking

Writes Francis Schaeffer in his book Genesis in Space and Time (IVP, 1997), page 86:

Paul in 1 Timothy 2:14 points out: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” Temptation is extremely hard to resist when it is bound up with the man-woman relationship. For example, in Exodus 34:16 we are warned not to let the man-woman relationship lead us into idolatry.

Two great drives are built into man. The first is his need for a relationship to God, and the second his need for a relationship to the opposite sex. A special temptation is bound up with this sexual drive. How many young women are faithful as Christians until they come to a certain age and feel with their whole being, without ever analyzing it, the need for marriage and are then swept over into marrying a non-Christian man. And how many men are faithful until they feel the masculine drive and give up their faithfulness to God by marrying a woman who carries them into spiritual problems for the rest of their life.

I look upon such young men and young women as I see them going through this, and I cry for them, because in a way there is no greater agony than suddenly to fall in love and then to realize that one must say no to this natural drive because it leads in that particular case to a severing of our greater relationship — our relationship to God.

While what happened in the Garden of Eden was a space-time historic event, the man-woman relationship and force of temptation it must have presented to Adam is universal.

Marriage in the Cosmic Plan of God (Article)

Recently I was honored to contribute an 8,500-word article titled “Marriage in the Cosmic Plan of God” in the new issue of The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Fall 2012, 17/2). My goal was to evaluate complementary roles in the husband/wife relationship within the much broader theological scope of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Too frequently the marriage passage in Ephesians (5:22–33) gets dislocated from the massive gospel themes in the letter. And yet if we keep the cosmos-altering gospel in view, we discover that God has wrapped marriage up into his plan in Christ. Which is to say there’s a way of understanding marriage through Christ’s cosmic work in which the husband’s headship and the wife’s submission are reflective of their posture under Christ. In January I’ll have more to say about why I wrote this, but for now I simply wanted to mention it, and to make it available as a download here (1.4 MB PDF).

 

Wives, Submission, and Foolish Husbands

The following excerpt is taken from a book written for women, but one I find very helpful as a husband. The quote reminds me that my wife is called to exercise her own biblical discernment in relation to the decisions I make (or fail to make). My wife is not called to follow me into foolishness or sin. She knows this, and knowing that she knows this keeps me on my toes. I first read this excerpt around Christmas, and I’ve come back a few times since to dwell on the implications for me. What follows is the quote taken from Nancy Wilson’s book, Building Her House: Commonsensical Wisdom for Christian Women (Canon Press, 2006), pages 44–45:

The commands of submission and obedience are only difficult when we disagree with our husbands. If we agree with them and do what they say, it can hardly be called submission. Submission comes into play when we differ with them over an issue, but we defer to them and willingly give way.

But what about when the husband is in sin? This is a very important issue. What if the husband has adopted a wrong attitude and is heading in the wrong direction? Is a wife obligated to go along? It all depends. I have often been saddened that we don’t see more Abigails in the church today. She was not afraid to call her husband a fool and make arrangements behind his back without his permission [1 Sam. 25]. God blessed her abundantly for intervening in this way. She did not stay home and wait for David to attack her household while calling herself a submissive wife. She recognized that her husband was acting the part of a fool, and she exercised wisdom and prudence by going to King David herself.

If a man is acting foolishly, a woman is foolish to go along quietly. Of course this requires great wisdom. I am not advocating giving wives license to disobey in a willy-nilly fashion; that is what I am objecting to in the paragraphs above. But there are times when a godly wife should beseech her husband not to act in a foolish manner. It may involve doctrine. Perhaps she is alarmed that he is being attracted to heretical ideas, whether it is “openness theology” or Roman Catholicism. She should speak to him respectfully about this and let him know she cannot follow him there. If she belongs to a godly church, her elders would support her in this.

Perhaps he is plotting to create some kind of stink in the church. Abigail would not stand for it. A good Christian wife should go to the elders and ask them how she can be a good church member and a good wife at the same time. She should not simply stand by, hoping that her husband will do the right thing. Nor should she just accept anything her husband does as though he is infallible. If a husband is bad-mouthing his elders, his pastor, or his friends, a godly woman should refuse to go along. She should speak to him privately first, but if he is not receptive, she should go to her pastor or elders and seek their advice. This same pattern should be followed if a husband is violent, if he has a temper, if he is cheating on his income taxes, if he is not providing for the household, or if he is being sexually unfaithful in any way—and this is not an exhaustive list.

A wife is to be a helper to her husband, not a blind follower, and this sometimes involves going past him to get help. God blessed Abigail when she did this. In her case it was abundantly clear what was necessary. In other cases it might require pastoral input and oversight. But obedience and submission to a mere man is never absolute. God governs all of us. We demonstrate that we serve Him above all others when we realize that our submission and obedience to our husbands is always to be lived out within the boundaries God has wisely set for us.

What do you need to make your marriage work?

Writes pastor and author Timothy Keller in his new (and very good!) book The Meaning of Marriage (Dutton, 2011), pages 47–49:

So, what do you need to make marriage work?

You need to know the secret, the gospel, and how it gives you both the power and pattern for your marriage. On the one hand, the experience of marriage will unveil the beauty and depths of the gospel to you. It will drive you further into reliance on it. On the other hand, a greater understanding of the gospel will help you experience deeper and deeper union with each other as the years go on.

There, then, is the message of this book — that through marriage the mystery of the gospel is unveiled. Marriage is a major vehicle for the gospel’s remaking of your heart from the inside out and your life from the ground up.

The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us.

Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.

The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level. The gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should. That frees us to see our spouse’s sins and flaws to the bottom — and speak of them — and yet still love and accept our spouse fully. And when, by the power of the gospel, our spouse experiences that same kind of truthful yet committed love, it enables our spouses to show us that same kind of transforming love when the time comes for it.

This is the great secret! Through the gospel, we get both the power and the pattern for the journey of marriage.

 

The Happy Marriage

Timothy Keller wrote the following in his new book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (Dutton, 2011), pages 132–133:

A parishioner heard me preach on Ephesians 5, where Paul says that the purpose of marriage is to “sanctify” us. She said, “I thought the whole point of marriage was to be happy! You make it sound like a lot of work.” She was right—marriage is a lot of work—but she was wrong to pit that against happiness, and here is why. Paul is saying that one of the main purposes of marriage is to make us “holy . . . without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (verses 26–27). What does that mean? It means to have Jesus’s character reproduced in us, outlined as the “fruit of the Spirit”—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithful integrity, gentle humility, and self-control—in Galatians 5:22–25.

When Jesus’s love, wisdom, and greatness are formed in us, each with our own unique gifts and callings, we become our “true selves,” the persons we were created to be. Every page in the Bible cries that the journey to this horizon cannot be accomplished alone. We must face it and share it with brothers and sisters, friends of our heart. And the very best human friendship possible for that adventure is with the lover-friend who is your spouse.

Is all this a lot of work?

Indeed it is—but it is the work we were built to do. Does this mean “marriage is not about being happy; it’s about being holy”? Yes and no. As we have seen, that is too stark a contrast. If you understand what holiness is, you come to see that real happiness is on the far side of holiness, not on the near side. Holiness gives us new desires and brings old desires into line with one another.

So if we want to be happy in marriage, we will accept that marriage is designed to make us holy.

My Sister, My Bride

Heath Lambert, “Breaking the Marital Impasse: How Authority and Submission Work When Spouses Disagree,” in JBMW 15:2 (Fall 2010):

In Christian marriage, the spousal relationship is not the only one that characterizes the involvement of a man and wife. For Christians, a wife is married to her brother in Christ. All the passages in Scripture about marriage are relevant to a Christian wife, but all the passages about walking with a brother in the Lord are also relevant to her.

This means a wife will not be a good sister in Christ if she engages in behavior that tends to lead her husband into sin (Rom 14:23), or if she avoids rebuking her husband in his sin (Luke 17:3; Gal 6:1-2).

One of God’s greatest gifts to me is a sister in Christ who sees me more closely than anyone else and, so, is equipped to point out sin in my life that nobody else sees. Marital submission does not mean that a wife ceases to be a fellow Christian along with her husband. Likewise, marital authority does not insulate a man from being helped in his sanctification by his wife.

Martin Luther, marriage counselor

As Martin Luther talked his friends and associates wrote. But only a small portion of the recorded table talk conversations have been translated from the German into English, making me slightly jealous of friends who can read German, but slightly less so since Charles Daudert translated and published his 500-page Off the Record with Martin Luther: An Original Translation of the Table Talks (Hansa-Hewlett, 2009).

I’m no translation expert but it’s clear the book was carefully translated because the back cover warns readers to expect “blunt, explosive, often abusive, and many times course” language. Sounds authentic. The new book reveals a number of glimpses into Luther’s life and ministry that we would not get from any other sources, like Luther’s marriage reconciliation strategy (as recorded in the winter of 1532):

Doctor Martin Luther had traveled with Count Johann [Johann von Küstrin] to his sister [Margarehte von Brandenburg] and attempted a reconciliation between her and her husband [Johann II von Anhalt-Zerbst]. When he returned, he said: Oh, Dear God, how much energy and work will it take to bring them back together, and then after that much more effort just to keep them together! Adam’s fall so damaged our nature that we are completely unstable. It flows back and forth like quicksilver. Oh, if we could only get them to sit down at table and go to bed together! [p. 53]

There you have it.

Letter to a Wife

Because of travel John Newton and his beloved wife Mary were often separated for several weeks and even for months at a time. On April 17, 1774 John Newton wrote the following letter to Mary [as it appears in the published collection Letters to a Wife (London, 1793; now long op)]:

Though I miss you continually, I am neither lonely nor dull. I hope the Lord will give me a heart to wait upon Him, and then I shall do well enough till you are restored to me. I need not wish the time away. It flies amazingly fast, and alas too poorly improved. These little separations should engage us to seek his blessing that we may be prepared for the hour (which must come) when one of us must have the trial of living awhile without the other. The Lord, who appoints and times all things wisely and well. He only knows which of us will be reserved for this painful exercise. But I rely on his all-sufficiency and faithfulness to make our strength equal to our day. It will require a power above our own, to support us under either party of the alternative, whether we are called to leave, or to resign. But He who so wonderfully brought us together, and has so mercifully spared us hitherto, can sweeten what would otherwise be most bitter to the flesh. If he is pleased to shine upon us all will be well. His presence can supply the loss of the most endeared creature comforts as a candle may be easily spared when the sun is seen.

John Newton’s beloved wife Mary died on December 15, 1790 after a long battle with cancer. John Newton was by her side when she died. He later wrote: “When I was sure she was gone, I took off her ring, according to her repeated injunction, and put it upon my own finger. I then kneeled down, with the servants who were in the room, and returned the Lord my unfeigned thanks for her deliverance, and her peaceful dismission.”

Upheld by God’s sustaining grace, John Newton lived under the trial of living without his bride for 17 years.

What Did You Expect?

I have yet to be disappointed by any book authored by Paul David Tripp. Some of his best works include:

•    Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands
•    Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy
•    A Shelter in the Time of Storm: Meditations on God and Trouble
•    A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You

So what did I expect from him? More of the same.

His latest book on marriage—What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage—looks very good. The teaching DVD and CD versions of his message have been available for a while now. The DVD series was very well done (and would work well as a video curriculum in a local church marriage retreat setting).

Don’t let Tripp’s walrus mustache, or the book’s clipart cover, fool you. This book is the fresh and pointed work of a soul surgeon. The book is structured around 6 core marriage commitments–

1: We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.
2: We will make growth and change our daily agenda.
3: We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.
4: We will commit to building a relationship of love.
5: We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.
6: We will work to protect our marriage.

Here’s a short video introduction to What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

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