Through the years I have read a number of books relating to the topic of marriage, and after a while they begin to sound pretty much the same. How pleasantly surprised I was to read the book from Paul David Tripp entitled “What Did You Expect?” (ISBN 978-1-4335-1176-9). This 287 page book is the fruit of Tripp’s countless hours spent counseling couples through very difficult marriage situations, supplemented by the lessons he has learned from his own marriage.
The theme of the book is that marriage is the union of two sinners who do not realize how sinful they really are, and that marriage is one of God’s powerful tools to bring about His great purpose of conforming those sinners to the glorious image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). Therefore, problems in marriage should be expected, and even welcomed, as a gift from the good hand of God who is determined not to leave us in our sinful bliss, thinking that the world exists to serve us. But instead, in marriage we come face-to-face with the reality that the way of the Master is humble service and sacrifice (Mk. 10:45). Thus, marriage is a training ground for sanctification.
Tripp builds the book around six commitments rooted in his understanding that every “marriage needs the regular rescue of grace” (pg. 20) because every marriage that is not growing in Christ-likeness is giving in to the corrosive effects of sin – there is no middle ground – no standing still. Tripp writes “you will never become a graduate of grace” (pg. 230).
The six commitments are:
1. We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness
2. We will make growth and change our daily agenda
3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust
4. We will commit to building a relationship of love
5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace
6. We will work to protect our marriage
Each of these commitments is explained and applied as the book progresses in logical sequence.
Through the liberal use of illustrations from his own life as well as many real life counseling situations Tripp draws you in. By doing so he produces a certain sobriety on the part of the reader as he reflects on his own marriage and how easily it could become derailed through misunderstandings, inattention, selfishness and temporal fleshly priorities. As I read it, I was forced on occasion to put it down, pray for God’s grace and repent of sinful attitudes and actions that like barnacles had accumulated in my own marriage of almost 33 years.
Tripp rightly notes “In every marriage either giddy romance wanes and is replaced with a sturdier and more mature love, or the selfishness of sin reduces the marriage to a state of relational détente” (pg. 32). Therefore we need to abandon as soon as possible the wedding day illusions of a fairy tale marriage and recognize that “a marriage of love, unity, and understanding is not rooted in romance; it is rooted in worship” (pg. 33).
In developing this important truth about marriage and worship Tripp correctly notes “When the Bible says that we are worshippers, it means that every human being lives for something. All of us are digging for treasure. All of us are in pursuit of some kind of dream…[therefore]…no marriage will be unaffected when the people in the marriage are seeking to get from the creation what they were only ever meant to get from the Creator” (pg. 34) – this is powerful and life-changing truth.
One final quote: “You will only respond in a way that is right, good, and helpful to your spouse’s sin, weakness, and struggle when you are celebrating the transforming grace of an ever-present, always faithful Redeemer” (pg. 39). To which I say a hearty Amen!
This book is Biblical, practical, convicting, encouraging, and gospel saturated. I cannot recommend it highly enough both to those who are just starting out and those who have decades of experience in what Peter calls “joint heirs of the grace of life.”