Marriage as Parable of Permanence 5

WeddingRing.jpgWe are discussing marriage by examining the recent book of John Piper’s called This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence.

Piper connects marriage to justification and to forgiveness. For marriage to “display God” the husband and the wife are to live vertically with God and then to bend that forgiveness and grace out toward the other.

The foundation for this approach to marriage is that marriage is a “mystery” of Christ and the Church. In that Christ’s relationship to the church is one of grace, marriage is a display of that grace. So, Piper gets into both God’s wrath and double imputation and how redemption works — and that the marriage is to display that kind of grace.

It is important to quote what Paul does say here in Ephesians 5.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

John Piper’s wife, Noël, tells John that he cannot emphasize [enough, sorry for that omission] that marriage is a model of Christ and the church, and that is connected to the self-giving, purifying giving of Christ. Forgiveness is required in marriages. Because of redemption — and he draws here from Col 3:12 on “chosen,” “holy,” and “loved,” we are to put on the virtues of grace (like compassion and kindness and on to forbearance and forgiveness). Forbearance acknowledges that hurts genuinely bother us and forgiveness means relating in spite of the hurts. Piper tells how he and his wife have a “compost pile” image where they toss the “cow pies” of hurts and wounds.

Grace not only forgives; it empowers to change — and that is the focus of his next chp. Grace transforms us into agents of grace. 

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  • Scot,
    Should that not read “over-emphasize” or “emphasize too much” or something? Somehow I can’t imagine Noël telling him that he cannot emphasize these things 🙂

  • It has struck me as interesting lately that the debate over mutual submission focuses so much on Ephesians 5 but rushes right past Ephesians 1 and 2. There we see God in Christ raising up his bride to sit with him in the heavenlies, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given”(cf 1:21-22 & 2:6).
    I think if every Christian husband sought to imitate this there might be less need distinquish ourselves as complementarian or egalitarian.
    To view the passage you quoted in context, we cannot forget that Ephesians is a book of unities and of upside-down hierarchies. Jews and Gentiles become “one new man” in Christ, resulting in their equality in the Kingdom. Christ Jesus becomes our peace, breaking down the wall between us and God, and us and each other, to the degree that we sit with him and reign with him in the heavenlies (cf 2Tm 2:12, Re 20:6, 1Co 6:3). The social hierarchy of the Ephesian people is set on its head in chapters 5 and 6, with both high and low being told to imitate Christ in regards to each other. Masters and slaves become brothers. Father’s must consider the limits of their children and respect them. Husbands must imitate the one who washed his disciples’ feet.
    If this is to be so, then imitating Christ involves not just chapters 5 and 6, but also chapter 2. Rather than trying to keep gender hierarchy in marriage and the church, let Christian men elevate and empower their brides as Christ does his, and let both spouses “treat each other as more important than themselves” (Phil 2:3).
    And of course this does not eliminate submission; it multiplies it with mutual Christlikeness. But it also produces an empowerment mentality that encourages ministry and service based on giftedness, not on gender, ethnicity, or social conventions.

  • Forbearance acknowledges that hurts genuinely bother us and forgiveness means relating in spite of the hurts. Piper tells how he and his wife have a “compost pile” image where they toss the “cow pies” of hurts and wounds.
    Important to acknowledge, process, move beyond each other’s hurts and failures. I like the compost image. I have elsewhere heard it used to describe how God can redeem the crap of this life and use it to foster new life.

  • You’ve got to be kidding me. Did you write, “…marriage is a display of that grace. So, Piper gets into both God’s wrath and double imputation and how redemption works — and that the marriage is to display that kind of grace”? Marriage is an incarnate textbook of systematic theology!? Scot, come on. Do you see those things in this Ephesians text?
    What I see is *union*! Jews and Gentiles are one body and that one body is united in a blessed union with Christ. Live out the implications of union is what Paul is getting at. The whole body metaphor presents the idea that a man who loves his wife loves and cares for himself. Why? Genesis 2:24…oneness or union. Egads, not double imputation and justification and wrath.
    If I put on justification by faith alone in the OPP, then I will see it everywhere. IMO, I think this is Piper’s well-meaning, but misguided error.

  • Oops, in comment #4, last lines–Should read, “If I put on the glasses of justification by faith alone in the OPP, then I will…”

  • Scot McKnight

    Sorry to have mis-described. I corrected.
    No, John, I disagree with his way of fleshing things out, but I’m describing what he is saying. There needs to be more concentration of self-sacrificing love and less filling in the blanks. But it is very notable that Paul sees marriage as an expression of the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the church. That theology is on display in marriage, and that is what he means by marriage being focused on covenant-keeping instead of love. I don’t like this approach, but I’ll say more about that later.

  • Scot (#6),
    I agree with you that theology is inherent in both the mystery of the church in union with Jesus and in marriage. What gets me is Piper’s reading into a relationship other aspects of theology that appear to be his “hot button,” so to speak.And, again I am not saying that what Piper writes isn’t profitable and encouraging, but what does the Ephesians 5 text really contain? You ask us to read it and provided it for us to do that. I tried to see what Piper is seeing and I didn’t. Woe is me.

  • John,
    That is a problem I constantly have with Piper’s writing. I constantly feel like he uses quotes and passages to truck in something else besides what the author actually said – it’s as if he says “This is what they really meant / should have said”. When a passage easily aligns with his developed theology, the passage is offered as proof. When a passage or quote does not align, it is either reinterpreted or rebuked. It’s a case of making the text submit to the interpreter instead of the other way around.
    I don’t mean to be unfair to him and I know many have benefitted from consciously re-orienting their thinking towards God under the influence of his writings. Nevertheless, no matter how well intentioned, it is not our place as humans to reconstruct a better version of Scripture. If something is not there, don’t put it there. If it is there in shadow, inform your audience you are playing with shadow puppets (not necessarily a bad thing). If it shines brightly with 120 watts, then let it shine.

  • Karl

    I hesitate to pile on, but I agree with the comments about Piper shoehorning concepts into places where they certainly aren’t explicit, and may not even be implicit.
    This isn’t unique to Piper. It may not be unique to the neo-reformed folks either, but that is where I have most often and most strongly experienced the phenomenon. Every single text gets tied back into a particular understanding of Grace and God’s sovereignty (meaning TULIP), so most if not all of the 5 points of Calvinism and a particular understanding of the Atonement get worked into just about every teaching on any topic or text.

  • joanne

    I think marriage is to reflect the servant ways of JEsus Christ. Husbands are most like Christ when they serve. Wives are most like Christ when they serve.
    Christ who is God, became a human and served his people. He bore their sins on the cross. He share his life. He nurtured faith and maturity. He taught and spoke the truth and offered grace. He invited, and challenged and sought to help God’s people make vital, life-flourishing connections with God.
    I think if our marriages reflected that, and if our communities reflected that… the church would be unstoppable.
    I worry that Piper will tie his theological views to his philosophy about marriage and doing so will make his construct equivelent to the gospel.