It’s not like we’re hurting for books on marriage. In fact, there may be more Christian books on marriage than on any topic besides prayer. This means that any new book has to be awfully good to stand out from an already-crowded field. It was pure joy, then, to read Christopher Ash’s Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be and see it do exactly that. It is one of the very best books on marriage I have ever read—and I’ve read a lot of them.
First published in the U.K. in 2007, Married for God has only just made its way across the Atlantic thanks to Crossway. Ash, who serves as Writer in Residence at Tyndale House in Cambridge, describes his book simply: It’s “a straightforward account of what the Bible teaches about marriage.” He offers it for consideration in a variety of contexts: for individuals who wish to use it for private study, for engaged couples preparing for marriage, for married couples interested in an informal marriage refresher, or for churches to use as the foundation for a brief course on marriage.
Many marriage books focus on the how questions. How can we have better communication? How can we grow in our ability to resolve conflict? How can we have better sex? Others focus on the what questions. What is marriage? What are its boundaries? What kind of people may participate in it? Ash, though, chooses to focus first and primarily on the why questions, for “If we get our aims clear, then we shall see why marriage has to be what it is, and we will be well placed to see how to build a strong marriage.” He grounds his book on this foundational statement: “We ought to want what God wants in marriage. Or, to put it another way, God’s why matters more than my why.” If this is the case, “You and I need to ask God what he wants and then line up our goals behind his, rather than expecting him to line up his goals behind ours.” Marriage at its best is marriage that is aligned with God’s purposes.
The first chapter is dedicated to baggage and grace. None of us comes into marriage without some kind of background, some kind of baggage. We each have our unique histories “of sexual experience or inexperience; of hopes realized or deferred; of longings or aversions; of fulfillment or frustration; of fears, anxieties, delights, regrets. What we have done or not done, how we have been treated or mistreated by others: all these things shape what we believe.” Those who carry baggage need grace to deal with it, for “Unless we understand grace, we will misunderstand all the Bible’s teaching about sex and marriage.” Thankfully the Bible speaks to those whose pasts are spoiled or ruined, and it speaks equally to those convinced they enter marriage utterly pure and undefiled. “Never forget that [the Bible] speaks to those with spoiled and damaged histories, to whom Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and restoration, and never forget that by his grace God can turn a spoiled life into a life of growing purity, which will be perfected when he gives us resurrection bodies at the end.”
As he turns to marriage itself, Ash outlines the three traditional purposes for marriage: Children rather than barrenness, faithfulness rather than selfishness, and order rather than chaos. The heart of the book is a chapter-length examination of each. But before he can do that, he exposes one too-common teaching as wrong and destructive: Marriage as the answer to loneliness. No, “marriage is not God’s answer for loneliness. Indeed, marriage is not God’s provision to meet your or my needs. We would like to think that it is. But God has bigger purposes in the world than meeting our needs.” If we believe marriage is about loneliness, we believe that ultimately it exists for us, for the meeting of our deep needs. But the Bible tells us that marriage exists for God—so we can serve God in and through it. Ash describes marriage as “sex in the service of God.” By “sex” he does not mean merely the act of sexual intercourse, but the whole relationship and intimacy it typifies. Sex is the most distinctive component of marriage and, in that way, an apt summary of the whole thing.
He then dedicates one chapter to each of marriage’s main purposes—procreation as a means to creating more people to carry out God’s will on earth, sex and intimacy as a means of displaying God’s love and faithfulness for his bride, and marriage as an institution to bring order from the chaos of society. He includes a chapter on God’s plan in singleness and one on the heart of marriage, showing that “the heart of marriage is faithfulness,” the kind of covenant faithfulness we see God displaying from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.
By the end, he has done exactly what he set out to do: He has offered a challenging, straightforward, deeply-biblical, and counter-cultural description of the purposes of marriage, the challenges of marriage, and the joys of marriage.
As Ash begins his book he tells who may benefit by reading it:
If you are engaged, I hope this book will help you prepare for marriage. I hope you will find here Bible teaching to consider together as a couple that will shape your hopes and expectations in a healthy way. If you are in the first few years of marriage (or even later), I hope this book will help you lay foundations for a good marriage. Whether you received good marriage preparation or none, I hope this presentation of the Bible’s teaching will challenge and refresh you both. If you are single and wondering whether to get married, I hope you will find here clear Bible teaching about what marriage is, and—more important—what is the point and purpose of marriage. If you are single and disappointed, because the opportunity for marriage has not (or not yet) come your way, I hope that you too will find here some comfort and encouragement to live your present unmarried life wholeheartedly and joyfully for Christ. And, for that matter, if you have no intention of being married, this book may help you understand and encourage those who are. (Italics added.)
By my assessment, Married for God succeeds in each of these ways and will prove a blessing to each of these people. I will go ahead and recommend it in every way. It really is among the very best books on marriage.
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