Books on marriage are a dime-a-dozen these days, even from a Christian perspective. However, only a handful of books on marriage pass the test of biblical fidelity. John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage passes both tests.. In fact, it ranks among the best books I’ve read on marriage to date.
Readers familiar with Piper will instantly drawn in to his argument for marriage. Over and over Piper pounds the theme of the book into the ground for maximum effect: The ultimate purpose of marriage is “the display of Christ’s covenant keeping grace.” To that end, the author develops several items worth mentioning.
1. The author grounds his central argument in rich soil by reiterating that marriage is “the doing of God.”
And in a final sense, “marriage is the display of God.” He continues, “The ultimate things we can say about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory. That is, it exists to display God … Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display.” And this is the primary reason why divorce is so odious to God: “Therefore, what makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God’s eyes is not merely that it involves covenant-breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and his covenant” (emphasis mine).
2. Piper focuses on the priority of covenant love.
Remember the theme of the book that marriage is means to display Christ’s covenant keeping grace. Therefore, the author argues that “staying married is not mainly about staying in love. It’s about covenant-keeping.” The foundation for this covenant-keeping is the rock-solid covenant between people and God. Therefore, Piper continues, “Marriage exists to display the merciful covenant-keeping love of Christ and the faithfulness of his bride.”
It is here that the book takes an important and decisive turn – for the author shows the relevance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone and how it relates to marriage. Piper adds, ” God requires two thing of us: punishment for our sins and perfection for our lives.” He continues to describe how the vertical reality of justification must be “bent horizontally to our spouses if marriage is to display the covenant-making, covenant-keeping grace of God.” The takeaway is profound: “Let the measure of God’s grace to you in the cross of Christ be the measure of your grace to your spouse.” This is a perfect example of the Christ-saturated wisdom that permeates the book.
Piper continues to give practical advice to husbands and wives throughout the book; advice that is bathed in biblical wisdom; advice that is ultimately rooted in our God who keeps covenant with his people. Biblical headship is discussed – so husbands are encouraged to lead well: “Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.” The husband’s leadership involves physical and spiritual protection and physical and spiritual provision.Biblical submission is explored: “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.” What strikes me about the section on headship and submission is this: in a few short pages, Piper delivers an exegetical bombshell that utterly destroys the prevailing notion of egalitarianism. This God-dishonoring view that sees no distinction between male and female roles is left begging for mercy; tattered and torn in the shadow of Piper’s sound exposition.
The concluding chapters discuss the permanence of the marriage covenant. In what may be one of the most important statements in the book, Piper suggests that “if Christ ever abandons and discards his church, then a man may divorce his wife. And if the blood-bought 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, 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.”
The author boldly goes where few pastors dare to go by suggesting that remarriage is prohibited so long as the previous spouse is still alive. His arguments are exegetically sound and compelling. Readers who disagree are encouraged to survey the case that Piper presents and prayerfully consider his arguments.
This Momentary Marriage is a landmark book. It is a theological landmine that will undoubtedly shatter many preconceived notions about marriage. It is solid food that Christians need to digest. And it is timely ointment that is designed to heal wounds and promote strong marriages in the difficult days ahead.