NOTE: this review of Chapter 8 of Desiring God was written by a friend of mine as a private devotion but they gave me permission to share it here because I found it to be helpful ...
Chapter Eight: Marriage. A Matrix for Christian Hedonism
This chapter, for me, was probably the most challenging and encouraging chapter so far. Challenging, because I have missed the mark in so many ways, as a husband, let alone a Christian Hedonist in my young marriage. Encouraging, because I can, by God’s grace, apply the principle’s Piper offers, given to us, in God’s word, and radically turn my marriage around. In keeping with his theme throughout his book, Piper’s suggestion is for husbands and wives to seek their own pleasures in the pleasures of their spouses. In fact, as Piper explains, it is a biblical mandate for husbands and wives to seek their own joy in the joy of their spouses.
It should be of no surprise that Piper draws much support for this biblical mandate from Ephesians 5:25-30. I must agree, it is an incredibly beautiful passage of scripture in which God gives us to learn of how Christians are to be as husband and wife. Is there a greater exhortation for marriage than for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves his church? I repeat, for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves his church! And just how did Christ love his church? How did Christ show us we are to seek joy in this task? We see Ephesians 5:25 says, “…as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” and in Hebrews 12:2 it says, “For the joy that was set before him [He, Jesus] endured the cross.” It is plainly spoken of-- Jesus died to be married to his church. And in doing so, he sanctified her and cleansed her to present her to himself without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:26-27). Wow!-- Christ sought his joy in pursuing her best.
I must confess, I am no stranger to seeking pleasure for myself. For all my life, I might say, I perfected this endeavor. In fact, this is how God created us. He created us with intense desires to seek our own happiness. However, because of the fall we seek it primarily selfishly. It seems that, in marriage, God has created a human relationship like none other. I have found that my selfishness is most evident to me since I got married. I think it is because I am now more intimately experiencing life with another, my wife. In fact, we are now one flesh! The beautiful thing is, this relationship has been uniquely created to provide the best opportunity to model and find Christlike joy. Piper uses a quote from Jonathan Edwards to say this in another way, it says, “Jesus knew that all mankind were in the pursuit of happiness. He has directed them in the true way to find it, and He tells them what they must become in order to be blessed and happy.” If you look at scripture passage like Ephesians 5:28 and Matthew 22:39, you see Jesus uses the assumption that we have a self-interest in happiness, we love ourselves already. However, He makes the measure of our innate self-love the measure of our duty to love others (p209). Thus the exhortations and commands to “love your neighbor as yourself”, or “He who loves his wife loves himself”, and “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”
Piper goes on to provide us another insight concerning God’s created pattern for marriage called a “profound mystery” by the Apostle Paul. Using the Old Testament, Piper makes a remarkable point regarding this mystery. Back in Genesis 2 we see God creating Adam, setting him in the garden, and proclaiming that it was not good for Adam to be alone. So, after helping Adam see that no helper could be found among the animals, God puts Adam in a deep sleep and pulls from his side a rib to make woman. A familiar story, I thought, but Piper makes a great point here. The reason God did this is to make man to be a sharer (p210). Piper puts it this way, “no man is complete unless he is conducting grace (like electricity) between God and another person” (p210). He creates fellowship! This is such a blessing to understand. The triune God, eternally existing in fellowship, as Father, Son and Spirit creates a fellowship between man and women, called marriage, to reflect the fellowship of God the Son and His people, His church. What an incredible mystery revealed! I must again include what Piper writes, he says, “Those of us who are married need to ponder again and again how mysterious and wonderful it is that God grants us in marriage the privilege to image forth stupendous divine realities infinitely bigger and greater than ourselves” (p213). I am simply blown away as I meditate on this.
With this understanding about marriage; we now know just how crucial it is to be studying God’s Word for our marriages to be successful, for our marriages to honor Him and bring Him glory. All the well intentioned books written about marriage, even many Christian books, without this understanding, simply fall short with their philosophies, techniques, and principles. Because it’s all about Jesus. Husbands take their cues from Him and wives take their cues from the purpose of the church in its relation to Him (p214).
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” Ephesians 5:22-24. Piper offers that to better understand the role of the wife in submission we must better understand what the husband’s “headship” is. In short, headship means primarily to be guidance, alertness, and protection. Wives respond to their husbands according to the guidance, alertness, and protection their husband provide. This is the “in submit in everything” for a wife. However, that never means following their husbands lead into sin or for the husband to replace Christ as the woman’s supreme authority. She submits to her husband’s primary leading role of their relationship and their home.
Now, let’s go back to the role of the husband. As stated earlier, the husband takes his cues from Christ. As Christ loves his church and gave himself up for her so are husbands to love their wives. As Piper puts it on page 217, let it be very plain to every husband that this means primarily leading out in the kind of love that is willing to die to giver her life. This leadership role of the husband is also a serving kind. Again, when we look to Christ as our model, husbands, we see he came to serve not to be served. This is how husbands submit in their leading role. While it is true that the husband has the greater responsibility to take the lead in the things of the Spirit; like prayer, vision, mission, moral fabric and protecting the home, he does this always in submission to Christ, and for his wife’s best in mind, to her benefit. So, we see a mutual submission happening by wives and husbands. He does not lord his leadership over his wife. He is not the dictator of his home. He dies to self, he serves his wife and family, he protects, he provides, and he seeks the Lord in all things.
Piper concludes this chapter with redeeming fallen headship and fallen submission. If we look back at The Fall in Genesis, we see that’s when man’s headship and woman’s submission became twisted. For the man, sometimes it takes the form of hostile domination and others into lazy indifference (p220). For women, submission became either manipulative obsequiousness in some women and brazen insubordination in others (p220). We don’t have to look too far or think very hard when considering if this is the case today. All marriages suffer from this root problem. We are sinners since The Fall, man and women, and as a result we selfishly seek our own happiness first and often at the expense of others, including God. I see this pattern quite prevalent in my own heart, and it’s consequences in my own marriage. Thankfully we are not without hope. For God has brought us a redeemer! He gave us his only begotten Son, who came to earth, put on flesh, lived a sinless life, became sin for us, died a sinner’s death, and rose from the grave. Jesus Christ conquered the penalty for sin, our penalty for our sin! When we look to Jesus our Redeemer and our salvation, we find our hope for this world and the world to come. Therefore, no marriage is beyond this hope for redemption. Jesus is the key. When we take our cues from Him, apply His truth and His ways, we start to experience a divinely wonderful relationship with our spouses. Most of all, we bring glory to God and in doing so we experience great joy. How wonderful this mysterious gift from God called marriage. It truly is a matrix for Christian Hedonism.