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.

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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.

The Great Reversal vs. Phony Reversals

Proverbs 30:21-23

For three things the earth is disquieted,

and for four which it cannot bear:

For a servant when he reigneth;

And a fool when he is filled with meat;

For an odious woman when she is married;

And an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.

These verses denote particular evils which are disquieting, that is, they are disturbing: the Hebrew connotation is that these evils are wont to make “the earth” quake, tremble, or shutter. The evils listed here are not bearable; even for a fallen world, they are intolerable. So, this is a list of intolerable things that make the world tremble and shake.

Disturbing Evils (1 of 4): For a servant when he reigneth.

There is nothing ipso facto evil about going from rags-to-riches, or transitioning from servant-status to king-status. Scripture abounds with examples: Joseph, Daniel, David, etc. It is, however, intolerably-evil when somebody goes from rags-to-riches, and subsequently forget where they came from. That is, they forget God’s good and kind providence that paved the way for their successes. And marinating in their forgetfulness, they sinfully become arrogant and conceited (as one commentator calls it “too big for their boots”). Tragically, that type of arrogance/conceit commonly transmutes into cruelty towards others.

There is an example of this intolerable cruelty in Matthew 18:21-35, the “parable of the unmerciful servant.” Scripture describes a servant unable to pay a debt of ten thousand talents, but he begs for mercy. Fortunately, he is granted mercy. But afterward we read that he goes out finds a fellow-servant which owed him an hundred pence. He demands payment, and the fellow-servant begged for compassion and patience, but the servant-lender has the servant-borrower thrown into debtor’s prison. That type of cruelty is unbearable for the world, it makes one quake — Kindness was extended to the servant, and afterward he did not extend kindness. Arrogant, conceited, cruel, and it makes the world quake at the mere thought of such evil.

Disturbing Evils (2 of 4): And a fool when he is filled with meat.

It is intolerable to see a fool up-to-his-eyeballs in prosperity in spite of himself. This fool, being a genuine fool, did not orchestrate or contribute to his good-fortune, and, accordingly, he becomes arrogant and proud. Why? Because being foolish he is foolhardy and delusional enough to deceive himself into thinking “I’m the one responsible for all this good fortune!” But that is hardly the case. In Proverbs 12:11, we read that it is the diligent man who tills the land, and thus it is the diligent man who will enjoy meat, meaning prosperity. A fool is not a diligent man. It seems like a cosmic-accident when the foolish, the lazy, and the shiftless stumble upon temporal successes. Oftentimes it is not that they are successful that is intolerable, but rather it is their subsequent haughtiness. Pride and delusion often characterizes the disposition of a “prosperous” fool.

Disturbing Evil (3 of 4): For an odious woman when she is married.

An odious, that is, hated and unloved, married woman is a very sober evil. Married people sexually possess one another, so the scenario depicted here is a woman who is sexually possessed by her husband and simultaneously hated, i.e., marital sex which lacks marital love. Now, if that isn’t intolerable and disturbing enough, the reason the the wife may be hated (not loved) is because of a cross attitude, or she could be ill-natured, and unpleasant and disagreeable to her husband (as Matthew Henry suggests). Irregardless, marital sex without marital love is an intolerable evil, an evil that makes one frightfully shutter. You ask yourself, Who can bear such a thing?!?

Disturbing Evil (4 of 4): And an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.

Finally, we have the handmaid, a servant or slave-girl, who is heir to her mistress. That is, this slave-girl displaces her mistress. And, of course, the preeminent example of this in Scripture is of Hagar, the handmaid of Sarah, who gives Hagar to her husband, Abram, as a concubine; Hagar conceives, and afterward we learn that she begins to despise and look down on Sarah. For what its worth, it is not uncommon in our modern day and age to hear again and again reports about husbands committing adultery with a nanny and/or leaving the wife to shack up with the nanny. As common and cliche as this type of adultery has become, you still get a sense in people’s reactions that it is a disturbing and intolerable evil. Indeed, when handmaids usurp their mistresses, it makes the world shutter–it is an intolerable evil.

Great Reversal: Type / Antitype

Each of the intolerable evils described above are a type of reversal story. However, each of them is an antitype of the “Great Reversal.” What is the Great Reversal? It the will, decree, and execution of God’s merciful plan of salvation.

This “Great Reversal” is first mentioned (promised) in Genesis 3:15 with the prophecy of a Messiah-Redeemer. Fast forward through all the years of Messianic-hope and additional Messianic revelation, and at the advent of the Messiah, we see the Messiah’s mother, Mary, describe the “Great Reversal” in Luke 1.

My soul doth magnify the Lord . . . He [the Lord] hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

God promised a Great Reversal.  At the dawn of the execution of the Great Reversal, the Messiah’s mother praises the Lord who planned and executed the Great Reversal and Redemption of his children.

Part of the reason why the four antitype reversals described above are so intolerable, and make a fallen world quake and shutter, is because those evil reversal stories are phony-poser-reversal-stories that do not mirror the true Great Reversal. Each scenario lacks the good, wise, and holy characteristics of the Great Reversal that is God’s grace: God’s overturning the tables of business as usual in a fallen world, of disrupting the wicked status quo of a fallen world, and translating sinners from darkness to the Kingdom of light, etc.

In the antitypes above, the individuals respond with pride and arrogance and too-big-for-their-boots cruelty and perverse-underhanded usurping. But how do God’s people  respond to God’s gracious “Great Reversal”? God’s “Great Reversal” executed via the Messiah brings both blessing and change to sinners: the benefits of the “Great Reversal” are applied by the Spirit, and Spirit-filled and Spirit-led, the recipients of God’s grace respond with abiding humility and perpetual thanksgiving and joy in the Spirit.

Servants who reign in Christ are not proud, but rather they are poor in spirit and meek and thankful for their Redeemer!

Fools who receive meat in Christ are not delusional and self-deceived, but rather they rejoice in the diligence and perfect obedience of their Redeemer.

The constant and consistent love of Jesus daily reminds those in Christ that the Bridegroom’s Bride is not an odious woman.

And because Christ is faithful, those in Christ never have a reason to fear a handmaid usurping their place.