Marriage: A Rescuing Grace

Recently Lynn Roush who serves part-time as a counselor at The Crossing reviewed Paul Tripp’s latest book on marriage for Christianity Today’s blog for women called Her.meneutics. We thought you might be interested in both the review and the book which can be purchased in The Crossing’s bookstore.

During our engagement my husband and I dutifully pursued premarital counseling which consisted of a well-meaning seminary professor and his wife having us over to dinner for Q & A on marriage. He was a godly man that my husband and I respected very much. He and his wife graciously walked us through some of the highlights and lowlights of their marriage and how they worked through issues. We covered faithfulness, forgiveness, and the roles of a husband and wife. But what I remember most about the evening was my distinct feeling that I already had marriage figured out and that we had little need for advice or counsel. We were both seminary students who loved God, knew Scripture and who had great communication skills. That coupled with our love for each other meant that we were going to do marriage “right” and avoid the sinkholes that had doomed other relationships.

Twelve years later, I am still (by God’s grace) happily married but I continue to be confronted with the extent of my foolishness in those early days. I have faced unfulfilled expectations, disappointments, and unmet needs in my marriage just like everybody else has. I don’t know if anything could have prepared me for the hard seasons of marriage, but minimally, I think I could have better anticipated them if I had understood the biblical concepts that are fleshed out in Paul Tripp’s new book “What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.” If it had been given to me at the time, I know that it would have planted seeds of understanding and offered an invaluable perspective that would have helped me deal with my inevitable struggles in marriage.

The biblical wisdom that Paul Tripp communicates has a way of burrowing beneath the layers of roles, communication mishaps and felt needs that are the typical driving forces of Christian marriage “how to” manuals, and arriving at the most fundamental root of all marital problems: who or what we worship in our hearts. To date, this is the first Christian book on marriage that I have read that does not use the words submission or headship, nor does it even refer to the most classic passage on marriage, Ephesians 5. There are no listening techniques or explanations of gender differences. The kingdom model that Tripp describes transcends gender, roles and the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” ideas that often pervade our approach to solving marital troubles.

He does this by starting with the most basic question that each of us will answer in our lives, but that also bears tremendous consequences for our marriage. The question is simply: “Whose kingdom?” Tripp explains, “We are kingdom-oriented people. We always live in the service of one of two kingdoms…When we live for the kingdom of self, our decisions, thoughts, plans, actions and words are directed by personal desire [and] we seek to surround ourselves with people who will serve our kingdom purposes” (p. 48). Conflict occurs when this kingdom of self collides with our spouse’s kingdom and when they do not willingly acquiesce to our wants, needs and feelings. Two people pursuing their own kingdoms over the course of a marriage will eventually end in a bloody battleground. But what if both people decide to put their own agendas aside and submit to God’s kingdom where Christ reigns supreme and where joy, meaning and life are found? A heart reorientation of this magnitude is where real change begins, and the conflict of a marriage becomes an “opportunity to exit the small space of the kingdom of self and to begin to enjoy the beauty and benefits of the kingdom of God” (p. 50).

This paradigm shift breathes hope into any marriage, especially those that are filled with disappointment, anger and despair. Tripp explains what we all need to grasp, that “[God] has designed marriage to expose the neediness of your heart and in so doing, to bring you to the end of yourself” (p. 283). In other words, it is an act of God’s rescuing grace that we are brought to places in our marriage where we can no longer depend on our intelligence, our communication skills or our tactics of manipulation to get what we want. God’s plan in our marriages is to expose and reveal where our hearts have strayed from pursuing and worshiping Him and have abdicated the throne of our hearts, putting ourselves in God’s place. Relational change only occurs when our worship is properly aligned with the God who jealously pursues our hearts and who calls us to total dependence on Him.

But what now? Most of us are currently reaping the harvest of our selfish choices and marital trust has either slowly eroded or been completely shattered. The question that must be answered next is: how do I now repair and reconcile a marriage that has been torn apart by two warring kingdoms? The rest of Tripp’s book thoughtfully and biblically describes how two people can rebuild their marriage by developing a culture of ongoing reconciliation based on six commitments that will transform the relationship. These commitments assume that both people are hopeless sinners who are constantly tempted to operate out of self-righteousness, self-love and self-protection. Given this starting point, we are given practical (though not easy) steps to uproot these patterns of relating and replace them with new ones. The most important of which is examining how trust has been broken and what needs to be done to rebuild trust which is vital to the survival and success of any marriage.

Perhaps the most challenging truth that Tripp encourages us to embrace is that the greatest marital problem we face is ourselves. The Bible continually warns us of our own self-deception and requires us to accept that we do not see ourselves the way God sees us. Sin clouds our ability to see clearly and deceives us into thinking that we are better than we actually are. We will always rise to our own defense, succumb to shifting the blame to someone else and believe the best about ourselves. Not surprisingly, God specifically uses the marital relationship to reveal this ever present sin of self-righteousness. A marriage that is doomed for failure can be transformed when even just one person begins to see themselves in this light and confesses with genuine humility the ways that they have damaged the relationship. Grace is available in full measure when we recognize this truth and let God examine our hearts so thoroughly that we are willing to accept whatever it is He reveals to us.

Fundamentally, this book is a discourse on the transforming power of grace that is offered to anyone who has come to the end of themselves. Whether you are just now realizing you need help on the journey of marriage, your marriage is full of conflict and riddled by anger and bitterness, or you are living a silent co-habitation, Tripp’s work will open your eyes to the redeeming work that God desires to accomplish in your life and offer you biblical wisdom that is life-changing. Most of us didn’t expect marriage to be as hard as it is, but God’s sovereign plan includes such difficulties for the purpose of aligning our hearts to His big sky kingdom and rescuing us from our own.

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