My Top Ten Books of 2009 (#5)

momentary.jpg #5. This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence, by John Piper
#6. The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones
#7. Words of Life: Scripture As the Living and Active Word of God, by Timothy Ward
#8. Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall
#9. Calvin, by Bruce Gordon
#10. Water of the Word: Intercession for Her, by Andrew Case

Confession: I hadn’t read a new book by John Piper since God is the Gospel (2005) before reading this one.

I know.  I know.  For shame.

It was worth the wait.  This book was recommended to me by my senior pastor, Steve Goold, as “The best book on marriage I’ve ever read.”  Steve’s read a bunch, so that was high praise.  And he was right on the money.

The book begins with a foreword by Noël Piper in which she frankly portrays the highs and lows of their own marriage, and poses this excellent diagnostic question: “God designed marriage to be a picture [of the love between Christ and his church].  That makes me ask myself, how clear and well-focused is the portrait of Jesus that our marriage is displaying?” (11).

The rest of the book is, in essence, John’s foundational biblical instruction on marriage and his counsel on “how to do marriage” in such a way that the “portrait” is well-focused.  The title of the first chapter sets the tone: “Staying Married Is Not Mainly About Staying in Love.”  He writes, “The most foundational thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is God’s doing.  And the ultimate thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is for God’s glory.  Those are the two points I have to make [in this book].  Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God.  And ultimately, marriage is the display of God” (21).

A massive strength of this book is the clarity with which Piper puts the “pillars” of marriage in place.  What is marriage?  Why get married?  Why does God care if people get married?  What does marriage have to do with Christ?  Piper expounds (in keeping with Piper’s general modus operandi, these chapters were originally sermons) the biblical teaching on the nature of marriage clearly and compellingly.

But even if you have already been well-taught on these foundational principles, there is invaluable insight and practical guidance here.  In describing a husband’s role in sanctifying his wife—in pursuing her progress in grace—he writes, “If a husband is loving and wise like Christ in all these ways, his desire for his wife’s change will feel, to a humble wife, like she is being served, not humiliated.  Christ clearly desires for his bride to grow in holiness.  But he died to bring it about.  So we husbands should govern our desire for our wife’s change by the self-denying death of Christ.  May God give us the humility and the courage to measure our methods by the sufferings of Christ” (68).

There is sagacious counsel for wives who find themselves in a marriage to a lazy or unmotivated husband who will not provide leadership and direction for the family (88), and powerful exhortations to men to step out in leadership: “When a man joyfully bears the primary God-given responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership and provision and protection in the home—for the spiritual well-being of the family, for the discipline and education of the children, for the stewardship of money, for the holding of a steady job, for the healing of discord—I have never met a wife who is sorry she married such a man” (92).

Perhaps my favorite chapters were 9 and 10 (on singleness—I suppose because most of the people in my immediate care are singles) and chapter 11 (on sex—I suppose because I really like sex).  Piper speaks prophetically about singleness and about the relationships of care and intimacy that should exist between married and single people in the body of Christ, and gives practical advice about how this may be cultivated.  In chapter 11 he speaks with frankness about the God-designed goodness of sex, and explains that “best sex” happens when “her joy is his and his is hers” (133).

This is the best book on marriage I’ve ever read.  Piper writes, “Very soon the shadow will give way to Reality.  The partial will pass into the Perfect.  The foretaste will lead to the Banquet.  The troubled path will end in Paradise.  A hundred candle-lit evenings will come to their consummation in the marriage supper of the Lamb.  And this momentary marriage will be swallowed up by Life.  Christ will be all and in all.  And the purpose of marriage will be complete” (178).

In the meantime, there is scarcely a greater gift you could give to your spouse than to read this book and let it shape the way you love him or her.

(Get it free as a PDF.)

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