Pre-Marriage Counseling (Part 3)

Pre-Marriage Counseling (Part 1)

Pre-Marriage Counseling (Part 2)

In the prior posts, I gave an overview of the typical first two sessions for pre-marriage counseling: after the initial overview and orientation to pre-marriage counseling, the couple and I discuss the assigned reading and biblical instruction for husbands and wives.

Session 3

The third session deals with the duties of marriage and parenting, building upon our discussion of the purpose of marriage and the mutual duties and privileges of a husband and wife. Before we meet I have both of them read Reforming Marriage by Douglas Wilson and Bringing the Gospel to Covenant Children by Joel Beeke. In this third session, we connect the dots between the biblical (“puritan”) view of marriage, the mutual duties of husbands and wives, and the happy land of Christian marriage, where covenant children are born and raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

The former book is packed full of practical advice/instruction for cultivating a godly marriage. I suppose the main point I try to convey is purity/holiness in marriage: marriage is an institution created by God, and Christian couples are called to glorify God by walking in holiness, i.e., according to the Christ-church principle explained in Ephesians. Again, two things I emphasize is the centrality of honest, wise communication, and mutual service. I also emphasize putting on humility in marriage and confessing sin against one another / extending forgiveness. Not confessing sin, and not extending forgiveness, is virtually poisoning the well, and it will transmute the happy land of marriage into something resembling a post-nuclear dystopia (the nuclear fallout of sin in a marriage is simply awful). Another thing I emphasize is the spiritual warfare that they should anticipate and expect in some measure; there will be spiritual warfare that is commensurate to married life, because the Devil and his evil angels do not want Christian marriages to flourish, nor do they desire seeing the next generation of Christians discipled and catechized for God’s glory. Simply put, marriage is merely one of the theaters of war in the holy war against evil principalities and powers, so husbands and wives need to view their marriage relative to and in relation to the holy war motif in Scripture. Marriage vows like “‘Til death do us part” translated into holy war verbiage means that if at the barricades we fall, then it is at the barricade called marriage that we spend our lives.

The latter book is short and full of practical advice for how to disciple covenant children, balanced with the appropriate warnings for Christian parents to not presume upon the covenant. Beeke rightfully and persuasively warns against both overestimating and underestimating the covenant, rather arguing for “properly estimating the covenant.” Beeke says,

“The covenant creates the context in which we make diligent use of the means of grace, and we believe that the God of covenant often honors such use of His ordained means, though, being the sovereign Jehovah, He is by no means obliged to do so (Rom. 9:11-13). Nevertheless, Scripture affirms that the Holy Spirit richly blesses the evangelizing and nurturing of covenant children in knowledge, faith, love, and obedience (Gen. 18:19; Prov. 22:6). Faithful parenting, by the Spirit’s blessings, frequently issues in regeneration and a life of covenantal faithfulness (Ps. 78:1-8).

I don’t assign the following two books, but during Session 3 I recommend that after they are married the couple follow up and read The Duties of Parents by J.C. Ryle, as well as Joel Beeke’s Parenting by God’s Promises. Both books are superb.

Next week we will discuss Session 4: practical household duties.

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Pre-Marriage Counseling (Part 2)

Pre-Marriage Counseling (Part 1)

In the prior post, I gave a high-level overview of the typical first session for pre-marriage counseling: “orientation” to pre-marriage counseling as well as outlining the biblical view of marriage.

Session 2

Between Sessions 1 and 2 I assign two books: future-husband reads Federal Husband by Douglas Wilson, and future-wife reads The Fruit of Her Hands by Nancy Wilson; I ask the couple *if they have time* in the midst of preparing/planning the wedding to try to read/skim each other’s books. I ask them to be in conversation with one another about what they are reading, e.g., What do they agree with? What do they disagree with? What was new? What was compelling? I ask them to take note of those types of thoughts and that we’ll discuss them at Session 2. (Note: I haven’t done this yet, but I’ve been contemplating supplementing portions of Federal Husband with chapters from Timothy Witmer’s The Shepherd Leader at Home.)

So, by the time I meet again with the couple for Session 2 they should have read the assigned reading, had their own discussions about the reading material, and they should be prepared for our pre-marriage counseling discussion regarding the mutual duties, responsibilities, and privileges of husbands and wives.

There are three things I emphasize in Session 2: the biblical role/duties of husbands, the biblical/role duties of wives, and, again, the centrality of companionship. Typically the discussion regarding roles/duties is straightforward: we look at the Christ-church principle in Ephesians, and household codes in Colossians, as well as positive / negative examples from OT/NT narratives, e.g., Ananias and Sapphira in Book of Acts is Christ-church antitype. It goes without saying that today there is a great deal of error taught and/or misinformation regarding roles/duties of husbands and wives, but the best way address any of that when it comes up in pre-marriage counseling is to return to Genesis and look at the original purpose of marriage (not good for Adam to be alone = companionship), and the Adam/Eve marriage-relationship (Eve was given to be Adam’s “help-meet”; better translation of ‘ezer kenegdo probably “sustainer beside him” (per Robert Alter), that is, a wife is not auxiliary to a husband but rather a counterpart without rival or comparison. So, with that in mind, I then point to Proverbs 31, and I tell them that in its original context it makes a lot of sense to interpret it as an epic poem about woman as the domestic-warrior she was created to be (and I can’t recall where I read that originally, but I think it was Peter Leithart).

In summary, I strive for simple, practical advice, and I really try to be their earliest cheerleader encouraging them to prioritize their marriage, to be diligent and intentional about cultivating companionship, and mortifying any sin that would denigrate fellowship. Probably the most practical principle I give them, and I forget where I read this originally, is the maxim: Pursue / cultivate anything that contributes to companionship, and avoid / discard anything that does not contribute to companionship. In addition, I try to impress upon them the necessity that they mutually cultivate a high view of marriage, but not marriage in a general or vague sense, but rather their marriage, particularly. Also, sometimes in Session 2 we’ll read an excerpt from “Communication Comes First” in Jay Adam’s Christian Living in the Homeor recently I’ve started pulling highlights from Joel Beeke’s article “Nurturing Intimate Communication with Your Spouse” (PRJ 9, 1 (2017): 265-278). The whole point is that married life comes with a myriad of  circumstances, but couples have to be disciplined to have crucial conversations, to talk it out and walk out the details because they are committed to preserving meaningful, real fellowship.

In the next post we’ll discuss Session 3: the duties of marriage and parenting.

Pre-Marriage Counseling (Part 1)

Pastoral ministry is a joy, but a special joy is walking out the details of pre-marriage counseling with a couple engaged to be married. My goals for pre-marriage counseling are modest: (1) teach and review the biblical view of marriage, (2) encourage and equip the engaged couple to prepare for the privileges, duties, and responsibilities of marriage, and (3) stir up their zeal for their soon-to-be marriage.

Session 1

The first meeting is introduction/orientation to pre-marriage counseling: What is marriage? What’s the purpose of pre-marriage counseling? We look to Scripture, and discuss what marriage is, and what are God’s purposes for marriage, etc. I emphasize companionship. Throughout counseling I will return again and again to the centrality of companionship/fellowship in marriage. In addition to Scripture, I summarize and discuss a “Puritan” view of marriage and family life from Living for God’s Glory (Chapters 22-24); I emphasize the puritan’s biblical, positive view of marriage (stark contrast with contemporary and godless views, e.g., marriage as a “ball and chain” and/or “just a necessary evil”). Additionally, I also emphasize the unique privilege of engagement, i.e., it is a gift to have short season before marriage to concentrate on and prepare for marriage. So, I encourage and exhort them to use this time wisely, and to endeavor to prepare for marriage: their goal should be to start off their marriage on the right foot. A good marriage is hard work. So, I encourage them to put a hand to the plow and not look back.

 In the course of the first session I also try to learn more about each of them (What’s your story? Family/Church upbringing? Education? Vocational experience? Your spiritual journey? Etc. ), as well as their story becoming an engaged couple (How did you meet? How did he propose? Etc.) In the course of starting and ending each session with prayer, I typically ask the couple for prayer requests regarding both how I can pray for each for each of them and for plans and logistics for the wedding.

In the next post (Part 2), I will discuss Session 2: mutual duties of a husband and a wife.