Saturday, March 26, 2011

Another (more serious) book on marriage

When I mentioned "heavy" books on marriage that I was reading, this was one of them. But I think the heaviness that I felt reading John Piper's "This Momentary Marriage" is more about the weight of His glory than about something sad. It's all quite positive, because it is God's plan, and all that He created is good. But it is also a great responsibility.

(You can download "This Momentary Marriage" for free from John Piper's website.*)

Something old, something new

Many of the marriage-related topics addressed in this book (forgiveness, gender roles, etc.) can be found in the sermons posted on desiringgod.org. I had listened to several of them recently, so I recognized the material.

Yes, he offers commentary on the "same old" passages, such as Ephesians 5. But he expands on them in such a way that I received many new nuggets of insight that I hope to apply in my own life.

Grounds for marriage

Early on in the book, Piper quotes Colossians 3:12 ("Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved...") and then expands on a description of believers as 1) chosen, 2) holy, and 3) beloved. His conclusion is this: read more/-
"This is the beginning of how husbands and wives forbear and forgive. They are blown away by being chosen, set apart, and loved by God. Husbands, devote yourselves to seeing and savoring this. Wives, do the same. Get your life from this. Get your joy from this. Get your hope from this-that you are chosen, set apart, and loved by God. Plead with the Lord that this would be the heartbeat of your life and your marriage."
I made a note of this as something to pray about continuously.

Being in love vs. keeping a covenant

We've all heard it: "love" and "being in love" are not the same thing. People warn you that the "in love" goes away, so you'd better work on the "love" part. I like Piper's no-nonsense approach:

"If a spouse falls in love with another person, one profoundly legitimate response from the grieved spouse and from the church is, 'So what! Your being 'in love' with someone else is not decisive. Keeping your covenant is decisive.'"

Something recoils in me at the thought of ever having to deal with this problem. But I am so glad that there are people fighting for these truths, and that I know which side I'm on.

Marriage roles

Piper's comments on Ephesians 5 are that:
-the husband is like Christ, but he is NOT Christ
-"the analogy only works if the woman submits to Christ absolutely, not to the husband absolutely. Then she will be in a position to submit to the husband without committing treason or idolatry."

But I also felt it was appropriate that he challenges the ambiguity of modern marriage roles with this comment:
-"... the problem is that egalitarians seem to stop with mutual submission, as if that were all one needed to say about roles in marriage, or as if that is all that the text has to say. And when they stop there, most people today are left with great ambiguity and great confusion about the proper roles of husband and wife...You don't need to deny mutual submission to affirm the importance of the unique role of the husband as head and the unique calling of the wife to submit to that headship. The simplest way to see this is to remember that Jesus himself bound himself with a towel and got down on the floor and washed his disciples' feet (the bridegroom serving the bride), but not for one minute did any of the apostles in that room doubt who the leader was in that moment." (emphasis mine)
Piper then goes on to illustrate headship for two chapters.

"If there is a sound downstairs during the night and it might be a burglar, you don't say to her, 'This is an egalitarian marriage, so it's your turn to go check it out. I went last time.'...Big or little, strong or weak, night or day, you go up against the enemy first."

The next section deals with wives' submission. Piper expands on Proverbs 31:25: "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come."
"She looks away from the troubles and miseries and obstacles of life that seem to make the future bleak, and she focuses her attention on the sovereign power and love of God who rules in heaven and does on earth whatever he pleases (Ps. 115:3). She knows her Bible, and she knows her theology of the sovereignty of God, and she knows his promise that he will be with her and will help her and strengthen her no matter what."

Not married

Singlehood can be a blessing....haven't we all heard that before? (1 Corinthians 7)  I started flipping through the section a little faster, but I found that he offers some beautiful insight, like this comment:

"Someone might ask, wouldn't it be better to have both-the blessings of marriage and the blessings of heaven?...the blessings of being with Christ in heaven are so far superior to the blessings of being married and raising children that asking this question will be like asking, wouldn't it be better to have the ocean and also the thimbleful?" (emphasis mine)

 On hospitality

"If you are afraid of hospitality-that you don't have much personal strength or personal wealth-good. Then you won't intimidate anybody. You will depend all the more on God's grace. You will look all the more to the work of Christ and not your own work. And what a blessing people will get in your simple home or your little apartment."

Isn't this so true? I have been the recipient of this hospitality so many times, especially in Russia, where living conditions are modest. How wonderful to enjoy a simple meal in good company, or even just a cup of tea! When you are served the last portion of homemade soup, how warming it is to the soul! My roommate likes to say that food prepared with love is always tasty. I think that's mostly true. She always eats my cooking at least, even if she does douse it with ketchup once in a while. :)


Having children

This chapter begins with a treatise on sexual relations in marriage. Lots of good thoughts, but I'm simultaneously reading Piper's "Sex and the Supremacy of Christ," so perhaps I will cover that topic in another review.

His main thoughts on Christian child-rearing relate to marriage partners as a model of God's love for the future generation. "As husband and wife, they are a drama of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and the church. That is where God wants children to be. His design is that children grow up watching Christ love the church and watching the church delight in following Christ."

As he digs deeper, Piper focuses mainly on appealing to fathers as heads of households, with discussion on Eph. 6:4: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger."

When things don't work out

Unfortunately, a marriage book isn't "complete" without mentioning divorce. But I agree with Piper's stance on this issue as well. He suggests a combination of compassion for those suffering with a deep hatred for divorce itself and the sin that causes it. His simple argument against divorce relates directly to Christ's covenant with His bride.
"And if the blood-brought church, under the new covenant, ever ceases to be the bride of Christ, then a wife may legitimately divorce her husband. But as long as Christ keeps his covenant with the church, and as long as the church, by the omnipotent grace of God, remains the chosen people of Christ, then the very meaning of marriage will include: What God has joined, only God can separate."
Piper applies this to remarriage as well. Divorcing and remarrying is an act of adultery (Mark 10:10-12), because Christ would never abandon His bride in this way. However, this does not mean that those who have remarried should abandon their current spouses, as they are already in a covenant with them.


Thinking "out loud"

I finally realized what it is that's particular about Piper's teaching/writing style, and that is that he muses his way through an issue. He records all of his reactions as they enter his mind. He asks questions and leads the reader in exploring them; then his observations flow along, with lots of clauses linked by "and."

In the section on child-rearing that I mentioned, Piper muses about Paul's reasons for making a particular exhortation. 
"Of all the things Paul could have encouraged fathers not to do, he chooses this one. Amazing. Why this one? Why not, don't discourage them? Or pamper them? Or tempt them to covet or lie or steal? Why not, don't abuse them? Or neglect them? Or set a bad example for them? Or manipulate them? Of all the things he could have warned fathers against, why this: 'Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger?'...He doesn't tell us why. So let me guess from what I know of Scripture and life. I'll suggest two reasons. First..."

That's a pretty roundabout way of posing a question! It's effective in a way because it leads the reader in asking questions. But it's a little too informal, in my opinion. Lots of personal pronouns.

Conclusions

I think this book is a great, comprehensive look at God's design for marriage. John Piper's arguments are solid and I see no red flags as to false teaching. "Momentary Marriage" is not a collection of practical helps; it is a biblical explanation for building a solid marriage that will glorify God. Single people and the church as a whole will also appreciate reflecting on how Christ gave himself up for His bride and how this is reflected in human relationships.

Read more book reviews at YLCF's March of Books this month! 


*A word about the format: The PDF file is beautifully formatted, with a nice typeface and quotes offset in italics, etc. When I converted it to my Kindle, that was all lost. The footnotes show up in the middle of the text, as well as the page headings. There is no italicizing or indentation to indicate where there are quotations. There are quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that blend in with the text and are practically lost. Just a little warning.

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