What made the marriage conference with Paul Tripp so helpful (and different) was its Bible-centeredness. Sadly, much of the marriage resources produced for Christians is technique driven. The result is that husbands and wives are told what they must do for their spouse in order to get what they want out of the marriage. It is manipulation rather than ministry.
Tripp outlined three principles concerning marriage that we rarely if ever hear. They are:
Principle 1: A marriage of unity, understanding, and love is not rooted in romance, but in worship.
Worship creates a healthy marriage. In fact, everything we do is somehow shaped by worship because we give allegiance to whomever or whatever we worship. If my life is an expression of worship to the Lord Jesus then my life will reflect His sacrificial love. Our problem is that we are born idolaters. In Romans one Paul writes that our natural tendency is to distort the truth of God and worship the creature rather than the Creator. Tripp defines idolatry as that which happens “when things rise in functional importance above God.”
Idolatry reduces our spouse (and everyone else for that matter) to a means by which we can attain that which we have made an idol (money, security, applause, sex, etc). So, the health of my marriage depends upon a right preoccupation with God (worship).
Principle 2: Sin causes us to shrink our lives to the size of our lives.
This is a profound point. Sin shrinks our lives. Sin makes my life all about a single person: me. My wants, my desires, my ambitions, my feelings drive me in sinful moments. I lose a vision for God’s glory and my neighbor’s good when I sin. In other words, sin shrinks my life to the size of my life.
Principle 3: Marriage, this side of heaven, is always a war between two kingdoms.
Each of us are busily building, advancing, and defending a kingdom. The problem is that I am born with a sinful bent to build, advance, and defend my own kingdom; a kingdom unto myself. My wife, because she is a sinner like me, was born with this same bent. Obviously, when two people who are each trying to rule their own kingdom marry, conflicts will occur.
The apostle James makes it clear that fights and quarrels are produced when desires come to compete with one another (James 4:1ff). Even good things that I desire become fuel for quarrels when they become too important to me. “A desire for a good thing becomes a bad thing when hat desire becomes a ruling thing.” I quarrel when I perceive that someone else’s kingdom is coming into conflict with my own.
Even after conversion we still struggle against our tendency to build our own kingdom. We get angry in traffic, at work, at home, in line for coffee, etc because we encounter people who are not obeying the laws of our kingdom. “God has not given me His grace to make my kingdom work.” One question that Tripp asked is still haunting me: “When was the last time you were angry because God’s kingdom was violated?”
I identified with Tripp’s words that our lives consist primarily of “little moments.” We seem to think that the most formative moments in our lives will be extraordinary ones. However, it is in the seeming ordinary, little moments where our character is formed. An athlete becomes great not in the game but in a courageous commitment to the repetitive and ordinary practices and workouts. Likewise, it is in the little moments when the character of our marriages is formed. It is not the vacations or romantic interludes that shape a marriage. It is in the seemingly mundane moments of helping to clean a room, speak encouraging words, choosing to converse rather than watch TV, and simple acts of service that shape the character of a marriage.