Dave Harvey has written an incredibly profound book on marriage that I recommend for everyone, whether married or single. The book is called, When Sinners Say "I Do". Harvey explains the basis of the book as follows in the preface: "Marriage is the union of two people toting the luggage of life. And that luggage always contains sin . . . to get to the heart of marriage, we must deal with the heart of sin . . . But we must start where the gospel starts; there lies the hope for sinners who say 'I do'" (pp. 15-16).
The tone is set in the first chapter with the statement, "What we believe about God determines the quality of our marriage" (p. 20). Using the analogy of an uneven button-down shirt, Harvey illustrates that when we get the first button right (theology), then all the other buttons of marriage will fall into place. A marriage that is not built on God is like putting the first button of your shirt into the wrong hole. Nothing that follows seems to line up correctly. Naturally, the first button is an understanding that marriage is designed to glorify God. The most important person in the marriage is not me or my spouse. The most important person in the marriage is God.
Once we realize this, we will get all the rest of our buttons straight. We will understand that women are to submit to their husbands. Men understand they are to love and cherish their wives. When faced with tough decisions, we make the right choices. We understand that the greatest enemy to our marriages is sin.
Harvey writes: "Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet," (p. 29). Much of the discussion that takes place after this statement is about sin. Sin is not something many of us enjoy hearing about, but as Harvey notes, "dealing with the sin problem is necessary to a thriving marriage."
The remaining buttons described in the book include conflict resolution, mercy and forgiveness, accountability and honesty to one another concerning each other's sin, and sexual relations. Most books I've come across on marriage discuss these issues, but what makes this book different is that it centers these issues around a realistic look at sin and the power of the gospel to conquer it. Finally, this book is different because the final chapter, "When Sinners Say Goodbye," discusses the issue of decline. Rarely do we ever talk about the fact that when two people get married, it is only temporary, until death. As couples go through their marriage, they are expected to honor their commitment to be faithful servants to one another through disease, decay, and death. Again, when we understand that the most important person in the marriage is God, the inevitable releasing of our husband to Him becomes possible.
This book is a very God-centered, realistic book on marriage. It is gospel-focused without over-emphasizing the fact that marriage is a symbol of Christ and His bride. It offers very practical, down to earth advice that is valuable to both married people and single people as well. Any single person who is struggling with the longing for a spouse will have a greater appreciation for the fact that marriage belongs to God, which I think helps to take the focus off self and ease the longing.
When Sinners Say I Do also makes a great group study for couples (my church went through the study for couples this past summer). Study guides are available for this purpose and can usually be purchased wherever the book is sold.
If you'd like a sneak peek into the basic principles of this book, click here to read the Westminster Bookstore's interview with author Dave Harvey.