Marriages in Need of Grace
The marriages of our world, even Christian ones, seem to be in trouble. People keep saying this and bringing it to light through scores of sobering statistics and personal stories. You and I could probably list half-a-dozen marriages from our immediate communities that have dissolved in recent years. Just as many couples we know stay together under a cloud of frustration and despair. Our marriages need help. They need the grace of God. The God-given glories and intentions for marriage need to be thrust back into the middle of our minds. What Did You Expect represents such an effort.
If you have read other books by Paul Tripp, then you might expect this book to offer brutal honesty about the realities of marriage, clear and convicting illustrations, and a commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the solid power and hope for everything related to being human in this world. Connect the truths of the Gospel to daily life. That’s what you plan for him to do. And he does.
No matter how good or bad your marriage feels, you can expect to feel worse about yourself by the close of the first chapter—at least, you should. Thankfully, you can expect to stand far more confident in God’s grace as well. By the end you will likely say the book wasn’t pointed at somebody else, but squarely at you. It should help you see your desperation and your need for a Savior in the midst of your marriage. I am grateful for such an effect. I think it’s what our hearts and marriages most need: greater humility, repentance, and dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
What Did You Expect speaks primarily to those disenchanted and disappointed in marriage. Every chapter calls out to those who feel exhausted and dejected and want a new start under a new set of expectations. Much of disappointment in marriage, Tripp contends, grows from the unrealistic expectations we drag into the union. He states this right out of the gate.
“I am persuaded that it is more regular than irregular for couples to get married with unrealistic expectations. Again and again I have sat with couples who simply do not seem to be taking seriously the important things the Bible has to say about what every marriage will encounter in the here and now. Unrealistic expectations always lead to disappointment.”
By “important things the Bible has to say,” he means the fact that “you are conducting your marriage in a fallen world,” “you are a sinner married to a sinner,” and “God is faithful, powerful, and willing.” Not understanding these realities will set you up for large-scale frustration. Seeing marriage from God’s frame of reference, as a display of His glory, a means to sanctify His people, and an environment where a husband and wife can minister grace to one another is essential to being satisfied in the marriage you have been given.
The way Tripp identifies and dissects the operations of our sin nature in relation to our spouses should be dreadfully convicting to every reader. To give one example, he says we struggle to forgive one another because debt is power, debt is identity, debt is entitlement, debt is weaponry, and debt puts us in God’s position. In other words, we like to hold grudges because they give us a sense of power and superiority over others. We refuse to forgive our mates because we’d rather play the victim and work it to our advantage. Ouch! Then he says our marriages wither and flounder because of Selfishness, Busyness, Inattention, Self-righteousness, Fear, and Laziness. In other words, our marriages don’t breakdown because of mere circumstances, but because our hearts are proud and worldly. We love ourselves more than anyone else, including God. Ouch again!
This work stands against the horde of modern writings that say the health of marriages comes down to personality profiles, communication styles, childhood upbringing, and biochemistry. Tripp offers a totally different paradigm. It’s not about getting personal needs met, but learning to love the way God loves. It isn’t about resolving conflict using quick fixes, but adopting a lifestyle of reconciliation. It isn’t about generating steamy romance, but being “rooted in worship” of the Lord Jesus Christ. It comes down to what we do with God in their hearts every hour. It comes down to whom we really honor and serve.
I think we should realize the vast majority of modern Christian works on marriage do not talk this way. The sinful flesh refuses to think this way. I am the greatest problem in my life. I am the greatest danger to my marriage. I cannot fix my spouse. I need to focus on loving my mate not being loved by my mate. God’s grace is sufficient. Marriage isn’t for my glory, but God’s. Tripp delivers a volley of basic biblical truths we prefer to forget and neglect.
One Group on the Outside?
There may be one group of people left on the outside. Namely, those who genuinely want Christ to be the middle of their lives and marriages, but are wed to a person having no such interest. What Did You Expect is full of wise counsel to couples who want to make solid commitments together. “We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.” “We will make growth and change our daily agenda.” “We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.” These are marvelous covenantal gestures assuming joint participation. While these commitments can help any person, they will most encourage a husband and wife already in agreement that their marriage needs help. Men and women who are married to a disinterested or disinclined spouse may need to work a little harder at tailoring the material to their specific situation.
Another Story Must Begin
I still think men and women who feel alone in their commitment to marital growth can glean a great deal from the book, if for no other reason than the answer Tripp provides is the remedy for every form of human suffering and sin: the Gospel! The Gospel gives us new life in marriage and a new mission for marriage. I think that’s his main point. The story of the Bible calls us from the suffocation of self-centered, me-oriented marriage to the freedom and joy of Christ-centered, other-oriented marriage. It calls us to love and serve, not fight to get loved and served. Scripture helps us see how richly we have been supplied by God in order to spend those riches in His service toward others. We cannot hear this message enough.