Dave Harvey’s book When Sinners Say I Do begins with the premise that God has spiritual purposes in play for our marriages. It is written in the same tone of Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Marriage where I first learned that God is more concerned about using my marriage “to make me holy, not necessarily happy.” In this theologically rich book, Harvey has us looking at Scripture and considering the higher purposes of marriage. The running theme throughout his book is that “marriage is for our good, but it is ultimately for God’s glory.”
Harvey goes on to to say the greatest spiritual purpose of marriage is evangelistic in nature. “He planned it for this great purpose: it would give a beautiful earthly picture of the relationship that would someday come about between Christ and His church.”
As the title would suggest, our sin nature is the major focus of When Sinners Say I Do. Harvey goes so far to say that without exception, the cause of all of our marriage battles is sin. But Harvey is quick to point the reader’s attention away from the spouse’s sin and instead focuses the attention to his or her own sin nature.
He warns that looking first at our own sin as a root cause of problems in our marriages doesn’t come easily, nor does it come naturally. However, it is his experience that as Christians build their marriage on the reality of sin and forgiveness as it plays out day-to-day, that a transformation begins to happen that causes our marriage to be God-glorifying.
Harvey rightly asserts that we are experts at identifying sin in our spouse, but we are challenged at seeing it in our own lives. He explains that this is common because of sin’s deceitful, crafty, and alluring nature. We can see it’s effect so clearly in others, yet when we are in it’s grips, we are blind to it. Harvey argues that once our eyes are opened to the depths of our own sin nature, we are more likely to (1) recognize our role in our marriage conflict, and (2) extend grace and spouse to our sinful spouse when they are at fault. According to Harvey,
Once I know that I am indeed the worst of sinners, then my spouse is no longer my biggest problem: I am. And when I find myself walking in the shoes of the worst of sinners, I will make every effort to grant my spouse the same lavish grace that God has granted me.
Harvey suggests that when conflicts arise, we can train ourselves to suspect and inspect our own sin nature first, before blaming our spouse. Even in this we must realize that our own objectivity is tainted by sin. Many of our marriage battles will end here, before they even really begin, if we would just stop and inspect our own sin nature before going on the attack.
Harvey offers a practical checklist of how to deal with our own sin nature, as well as our spouses when it creates marital conflict. One of the things I appreciate most about this book is that it offers solid theology, as well as lots of real-life practical tips. The best example of this is found in Chapter 7: “The Surgeon, The Scalpel, and the Spouse in Sin,” where Harvey shares how spouses can effectively and lovingly be used by God to address sin in their mate.
According to Harvey:
1. A Good Surgeon Displays Wisdom
- Choose the right time to bring up concerns
- Don’t cut blindly – be in prayer, be gentle, be humble
2. A Good Surgeon Displays Courage
- Avoiding conflict is much easier, but it is not truthful. It takes courage to confront. It also takes courage to stand with your spouse as they process and heal. Don’t drop and bomb and then back away.
3. Courageous Surgeons Encourage Repentance
- “Your words and manner of delivery should encourage repentance.”
- “Your spouse’s sin is not first about you. It may affect you, but the most important thing it reveals is your spouse’s relationship with God.”
When Sinners Say I Do includes a chapter on sexuality that is important for Christian couples to read. For far too long this topic has been taboo in our churches, yet we know that God created intimacy as a beautiful way to illustrate our unique oneness as husband and wife. Harvey considers sex in marriage an adventure in devotion and our spouse plays a first line of defense against temptation in an immoral culture. He also calls it an adventure of delight, with the focus being bringing delight to our spouse, not seeking our own pleasure.
The final chapter of When Sinners Say I Do is a poignant look into a couple’s twilight years. “When Sinners Say Goodbye” had me looking ahead to a time when my husband and I will be able to serve one another in our old age. In our culture, we tend not to want to look ahead that far, fearful of the loss of independence that comes with getting old. But Harvey paints an absolutely beautiful picture of two Christians, taking care of one another in their final years, their final act of service to one another.
It took my breath away to know I have this to look forward to:
We have the joy of preparing one another for Heaven even as earth makes its claim on the body. We enjoy front row seats to the inner renewal even as we see the container wasting away.
Every time I read that (and I read it often) I think of Mark Schultz’s beautiful song, “He Was Walking Her Home.”
I am so thankful that I stumbled upon When Sinners Say I Do. It has certainly impacted the way I respond to conflict in my own marriage, and I’ve come back to it several times for a refresher. I’ve also recommended it to many couples since reading it and it will certainly become a standard wedding gift from here on out.