Author Paul David Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries and the executive director of the Center for Pastoral Care in Fort Worth, TX. He majored in Bible and Christian Education at Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) and went on to receive his Master of Divinity degree from the Reformed Episcopal Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. He has planted a church, founded a school, wrote worship songs, toured with a Christian band, served as a faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, and has now written over thirty books, including New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional; Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry; and Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. Dr. Tripp has been married to his wife, Luella, for over 40 years, and they have four grown children.
What Did you Expect? is a book about marriage. But it is so much more. “The Bible isn’t an encyclopedia,” Tripp begins, “it is a story, the great origin-to-destiny story of redemption” (16). This means, the Bible doesn’t just have a section about marriage to which its readers can refer. Rather, the story of the Bible “tells us things about God, about ourselves, about life in this present world, and about the nature of the human struggle and the divine solution, to that degree,” Tripp continues, “every passage of the Bible is a marriage passage” (17).
Tripp’s book, then, begins with several chapters that lay out the biblical story of what sinfulness has done to the human condition. Sin, he explains, is rooted in selfishness and self-love. Sin, as God describes it in 2 Corinthians 5, causes us to “live for [our]selves.” “Sin turns us in on ourselves. Sin makes us shrink our lives to the narrow confines of our little self-defined world. Sin causes us to shrink our focus, motivation, and concern to the size of our own wants, needs, and feelings. Sin causes all of us to be way too self-aware and self-important. Sin causes us to be offended most by offenses against us and to be concerned most for what concerns us. Sin causes us to dream selfish dreams and to plan self-oriented plans. Because of sin, we really do love us, and we have a wonderful plan for our own lives!” (47).
Throughout the book, Tripp then applies what the selfish nature of sin does to marriages. Sin leads husband and wife to seek the self-serving agenda of their own kingdoms rather than the serve-God-and-others agenda of the kingdom of God (48). Sin leads husband and wife to view each other either as “vehicles” that can be used to “help us get the things we want” (which leads to a false sense of love for the other) or as “obstacles” that get “in the way of what we want” (which leads to impatience, frustration, and anger at the other) (118,119). Sin leads husband and wife to have an inaccurate view of self, which then leads to self-righteousness and to seeing the other as the source of any problems that arise (75). In summary, Tripp teaches that sin produces a barrier to true love within a marriage because we are too busy loving ourselves (47).
Tripp’s understanding of the total depravity of sin, the self-love which it produces, and the ramifications that has upon marriage leads him to point his readers outside of themselves for the solution to sin and its effects – to the grace of God found in the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ. God’s grace is able to produce transformational change within the marriage bond because God’s grace produces transformational change within the sinners that make up the marriage. “You are not alone in your struggle,” Tripp encourages, “The Bible says that God is near…You are not left to your own resources. [God is] with you and is committed to giving you everything you need” (25).
Tripp points to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead as ultimate proof of that. His resurrection proves to us that God is faithful, powerful, and willing to transform us by his grace (25,26). He points to the forgiveness Christ won for us, to the identity we now have as children of God, to the love Christ showed us on his cross and that remains continually present with us through his Word (78). And he reminds us that the grace God has shown us in Christ has the power to uproot the selfish agenda our sinfulness creates in life and within marriage. God plants in its place the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (123-126).
With this foundation of sin and grace laid, Tripp dedicates the last half of his book to applying these foundational principles to six commitments God calls husband and wife to make within their marriage. The six commitments are:
- We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.
- We will make growth and change our daily agenda.
- We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.
- We will commit to building a relationship of love.
- We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.
- We will work to protect our marriage.
Tripp expounds on each of these specific commitments with the same general themes he introduced in the first half of the book – the effects sin has upon the human condition, and the power of God’s grace to change and transform.
In the preface of the book, the author states that he desires to offer the reader two things: “God’s powerful, transforming grace and his life-rearranging wisdom. In these two things you will find hope and real change for your marriage” (12). Paul Tripp accomplished his goal. His book is filled with insightful illustrations of what marriage is like and with numerous real-life examples of what couples experience within marriage, both produced from years of working with couples as a marriage counselor. But these illustrations and examples would mean nothing if they were not founded upon a deep understanding of sin and grace, and of God’s use of law and gospel in his Word.
Paul Tripp understands them. He understands what sin is and what it does. He understands what God’s grace is and what it does. He understands the total depravity of the sinful nature. He understands that the heart of God is one of rescue and restoration. He understands the substitutionary nature of Christ’s work. He understands the sin-revealing purpose of the law. He understands the life-changing power of the gospel.
This understanding, coupled with Tripp’s experience as a husband, marriage counselor, teacher, and pastor and combined with his ability to write in logical, engaging, and edifying ways makes What Did You Expect? an incredibly useful tool for the parish pastor. First and foremost, the book uses God’s Word to convict and restore on a personal level. A pastor’s own marriage will benefit, especially if pastor and wife read the book together. Secondly, this book will broaden and deepen a pastor’s ability to shepherd husbands and wives who approach him for marriage counseling. It will also lead the pastor to realize the importance of teaching these truths to couples before they get married (and, perhaps even more importantly, to those for whom marriage might still be a long way off). Finally, Tripp’s expositions on sin and grace extend beyond marriage to all relationships and to the Christian life in general. The pastor will find himself able to use many of the law and gospel themes Tripp presents in all of his preaching, teaching, and shepherding.
In summary, What Did you Expect? is worth the read. God has gifted Paul Tripp with the ability to expound upon the unchanging truths of God’s Word in new, fresh, deep, insightful, and thought-provoking ways. His applications of sin and grace are so real; he masterfully uses the living and active Word of God to convict and restore. This deeply theological and practically relevant book will remain on my shelf only when I am not re-reading it myself or loaning it out to others.