Living Joyfully in Marriage — A Review
Reformed Free Publishing Association
By John Marcus. A review of Living Joyfully in Marriage: Reflecting the Relationship of Christ and the Church, by Steven Key.
Pastor Key has written a solidly biblical book on marriage. Not only does he treat several important doctrines concerning marriage; he gives many practical applications and encouragements for God’s people (married and unmarried) living in a sin-filled world. The author wants us “to understand what marriage is and what it requires for those who are redeemed by Christ’s precious blood” (p.4).
Part One deals with the “Essentials to Joyful Marriage.” The chapters in this section give foundational truths that apply to every aspect of marriage. The most foundational principle is captured in the first chapter, entitled “The Essence of Joy - Marriage to Christ.” “Joy is an expression of our marriage to Christ and the knowledge of God’s love for us in Christ” (p.14). The subsequent chapters build on this singular foundation. Chapter 2 tells of “The Divine Institution of Marriage.” In this chapter, the author shows that the woman God provides for man is “just what man needs to fill the void, the lack, in his own life” (p.30). Chapter 3 describes marriage as a “One-Flesh Relationship” and shows what is entailed in this relationship as designed by God. The author describes this relationship as “a complete intermingling of body and soul, an intimacy unmatched in any other earthly relationship” (p.38). Chapter 4, “A Broken Home,” shows that living joyfully in marriage requires us to understand how sin affects us and all our relationships. Chapter 5, “Marriage Restored,” points to God’s gracious provision of salvation as the possibility of living joyfully with Him and in marriage. Chapter 6, “Only in the Lord,” tells of the necessity of being spiritually united in order to enjoy a healthy marriage. Chapter 7, “To the Unmarried,” shows that single members must understand their identity as those who are part of the Bride, the church.
In the second part of the book, “Privileged to Make it Work,” Pastor Key lays out several reasons to make the marriage relationship work. These reasons are primarily centered in God’s purpose for marriage. One of the chief reasons to make marriage work is expressed in chapter 8, “The Permanence of This Momentary Marriage”: we want our marriages to reflect the eternal union of Christ and His Bride. Chapter 9, “Privileged to Reflect the Mystery,” expresses the privilege that married couples have to reflect the glorious relationship between Christ and the church. Chapter 10, “God’s Purpose for Us—Living Joyfully,” shows another reason for making our marriage work: as His people restored to fellowship with Him, God calls us to live joyfully in marriage. “The Divinely Required Intimacy of Marriage,” the title of chapter 11, expresses another reason to make our marriages work: God commands us to render due benevolence to one another.
The third part of the book is entitled, “Dedicated to Expressing the Joy.” What will it look like when we are dedicated to expressing in marriage the joy we have in the Lord? The following chapters explain principles that apply to every child of God; nevertheless the author also shows their particular importance in marriage. Chapter 12 shows that our lives will be characterized by “The Exercise of Love.” Such love will necessarily involve what is taught in Chapter 13: “Dying to Self.” Thirdly, Chapter 14 points to “Forgiving One Another” as another essential element of our dedication to expressing our joy in marriage. In the fourth place, Chapter 15 points to the necessity of “Pulling the Weeds Out of Our Gardens.” Here, the author points out the necessity of rooting out sin in our own lives and warns us not to think “My marriage, My family life, is good enough” (p.184). Chapter 16 emphasizes the need for “Careful Communication,” which communication will be edifying and minister grace to the hearers. Chapter 17, has the title “Walking in the Spirit” and shows the necessity of walking actively in godly submission to the word of God in the consciousness of the wonder of the gospel, and in the fellowship of believers, all by the power of the Spirit. Appropriately, the book ends by calling us in Chapter 18 to be “On Your Knees Together.” We must be people of prayer because “God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them” (Lord’s Day 45).
As the above summary indicates, the author deals with key issues connected to living joyfully in marriage. Since these issues are foundational to the Christian life in general, the truths expressed are applicable not just to married couples, but also to young people who want to be married, to singles who never married or have lost a spouse to divorce or death, indeed to every child of God. Thus, every child of God will benefit from the book.
The strength of this book is that it takes Scripture as the ultimate authority as regards what is best for us in marriage (and all of life) and how properly to respond to difficulties in marriage. Each chapter is based on a specific Scripture text which is explained and applied as one would expect in a book based on a sermon series. In addition, the author takes into account many other Scripture passages to support the points he makes. When Scripture is taken as God’s revealed truth, we will know there was a first man and a first woman, who were tempted by a serpent, and ate of the forbidden fruit, and thus brought the wages of sin upon the whole human race. When Scripture is given its proper place, as the author does throughout the book, we will see our hope in Christ alone.
As it is based on Scripture, the book expounds many important doctrines. For example, the unbreakable bond between Christ and the church points to the permanence of the marriage bond between husband and wife (Chapter 8). Another doctrine expressed is the sovereignty of God, which touches every aspect of marriage including whether we find a spouse or remain single (p.138), or whether or not we are fruitful and multiply (p.138). Another foundational doctrine is the fall of mankind into sin and the far-reaching effects that are passed down to us from Adam. The fall, of course, has devastating effects on the marriage relationship (p.32,47). Not only does the fall mean that we must we deal with the old man within us, we have to live in a fallen sinful world that affects us (p.10). The doctrine of Christ’s saving work for us and in us as well as the covenant fellowship into which God has brought us figures large throughout the book as earthly marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. As God’s children we have been “redeemed and sanctified and brought under the dominion of Christ and his word” (p.5). Christ’s atoning sacrifice “is what it took to cleanse us and to clothe us with the white robes of righteousness, the glorious garments of Christ’s bride” (p.108). These are just a few of the doctrines taught and implied throughout the pages of this book.
Flowing from its doctrinal footing, the author makes many practical applications. These applications include advice for married couples (whether newly married or married for many years), young adults who are dating, young adults who desire to be married but don’t see any prospect of marriage, widows and widowers, and every child of God in general.
For the married in general, he warns “If you as a husband think you are just fine, and if you as a wife think that there are no personal issues you must address, that any troubles in your marriage are entirely your spouse’s fault, then you have a very superficial view of Christianity and a very faulty view of yourself” (p.207). Rather, he advises, “There is never a time when we can be lazy in a marriage relationship and expect it to be healthy” (p.191). For the married with children, he says, “The marriage relationship must also have precedence over the parent-child relationship” (p.34).
Regarding singles he says, “Also our singles—those bereaved, those who have been forsaken, as well as those unmarried—are yet married” (p.36), thus encouraging them with the truth of our marriage to Christ. The author warns, “the purpose of single life is not to live a carefree life of personal freedom and self-seeking” (p. 87).
To those who are dating, he gives this warning: “[I]f you, thinking of marrying, begin a relationship with one who has grown up in the same church but who is not interested in having a serious spiritual conversation, who shows no desire to study God’s word and to grow spiritually, that relationship is to end immediately.” (p.70). About dating and marrying others from different backgrounds, he discusses the restriction that not only must we marry “in the Lord in a general way, but that you two must be agreed” (p.72) as regards other important matters that will affect the marriage.
To all in general, the author warns about the danger of letting lust have its way: “A man or woman who fails to exercise self-control is one soon given over to the lust of the flesh” (p.210). When we are plagued by some besetting sin, he gives an example of how we should deal with it: “If your inappropriate use of that smartphone has damaged the necessary time for communication with your spouse, and that device has such a hold on you that you are unable to break yourself from its enticement, then you best take a sledgehammer to that device, break it into a million pieces, and buy yourself a cheap, no-frill flip phone for being able to make calls when necessary” (p.216).
The content of the book evidences the that the author has distilled years of pastoral experience into this work. Every saint, married and single, would benefit from reading this material. Highly recommended.