Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas, is, by far, my favorite marriage book. And I’ve read some marriage books! Whether it was Love and Respect, The Five Love Languages, Intimate Encounters, His Needs, Her Needs, or a host of other book studies that we’ve completed with other couples, my husband and I have gleaned much and learned much that strengthened our marriage. I love these books and recommend them all the time. However, Sacred Marriage goes where no other marriage book goes, and will completely change your perspective on the purpose of marriage.
What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?
That’s the premise of the book, and by that very question, you can see how this book can lead to a complete paradigm shift in your perspective on marriage.
Holiness should be our goal, and Gary Thomas’s book shows a variety of ways that marriage grows us as Christians. His chapters include discussions of love, respect, sin, prayer, forgiveness, a servant’s heart, sexuality, and other areas as well.
His book is incredibly well-written. I picked up Sacred Marriage expecting it to be great, but dry. Instead, I found it to be a page-turner. He uses examples from other people’s marriages, his own marriage, and those of historical figures to prove his points.
I love his idea of “Adopting a Holy Double Standard.” Essentially, we’re to have compassion for the sins of our spouse and overlook their wrongs toward us. Yet our attitude towards our own sin should be contempt, and we should be in battle with it. Thomas discusses struggles in marriage and the way they develop character. But most people run from struggle, and as he points out, “few people leave a marriage because it’s too easy!” He says “this tendency to avoid difficulty is a grave spiritual failing that can and often does keep us in Christian infancy” (128).
Thomas also says that compromise is a way of saying I love you. “It’s proof that we’re willing to give ground for no other reason than that we value the ongoing relationship more than we do asserting our rights, preferences, or wishes” (164). Such an attitude will require that we die to sin over and over again in the course of marriage. And if both couples develop such an attitude? Now that’s a beautiful marriage. Both couples will spend their marriage growing more like Christ and each will feel loved. If only one of us adopts this perspective, then that is when it gets especially tough, because it’s possible that the more mature member of the marriage will always have to give ground and may often feel hurt. It’s also possible that such behavior will change the atittudes of the other spouse. Regardless, it’s our calling as Christians, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do it.
Just skimming the pages of Sacred Marriage makes me want to reread the book, because I know that I’ve become lax in many of those areas, especially as life has become more hectic with motherhood. It’s always easy to focus on my own needs, instead of accepting Paul’s admonishment in Philippians to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4). This is what it means to be Christlike.