Marriage books are in high demand and bountiful supply, but Matt Chandler says that many focus on the wrong priorities. His latest book, The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex, and Redemption (David C. Cook) provides a biblical framework for the many stages of a couple’s journey. Courtney Reissig, a Her.meneutics contributor, spoke with Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Dallas, about dating, marriage, and the hope of covenant-keeping love.
Why describe marriage as “the mingling of souls”?
The Greeks had multiple words for love, as did the Hebrews. But in English, we’re all jammed up: We love our wives, but we also “love” bacon and the Dallas Cowboys. It’s kind of a junk-drawer word.
When you look at the Hebrew word for physical intimacy, in context, the other aspects of love—friendship, brotherly affection, commitment even when things are hard—are all implied. We see not just the mingling of bodies, but also the fullness of covenant relationship.
The contract model of marriage says, “If I’m getting what I want, I’m in.” In a covenant, we give ourselves to one another regardless of circumstance, for better or worse. It’s striking that our wedding vows are always covenantal. On this most romantic day, with our families and friends there to celebrate, we acknowledge that this could go badly. We could get sick or go broke. We could be miserable. But we aren’t going anywhere.
How can we discuss the attraction factor without seeming vain or shallow?
Two mistakes happen with attraction. Either we give it too much weight, or we pretend it doesn’t matter. Of course, if all you have is attraction, that’s shallow and superficial. But to say it doesn’t matter is absurd. It’s a good gift from God to find another person physically lovely, so long as we remember that there’s a deeper, longer-lasting kind of attraction.
I joke all the time at the Village that gravity eventually wins. I’ve been with my wife for 18 years. Though I still find her physically attractive, what’s proven most beautiful is her character, her godliness, and the way she loves our children and ministers to others.
What advice would you give to help people marry well?
Unfortunately the world is discipling the church. We have an overly romanticized picture of sex and marriage. We imagine all our struggles will vanish in the light of our partner’s presence.
We have to be careful about the idea of “the one,” where we expect a flittery-fluttery, ecstatic experience. I tell everyone searching for “the one” to give themselves over to serving the Lord. When you find godly men or women, pursue friendship in the hope that it might grow into something more. This way, you’re not looking for a firework experience—that’s straight out of Hollywood, not the Bible.
Here are some important questions: Is there a reputation for seriousness about the things of God? Is there a devotion to Scripture? Is there active involvement in the church? A brother or sister who is willing to serve God’s people should be willing to serve his or her spouse.
What does it mean for couples to “fight fair”?
God uses all our relationships to grow us, to awaken us to selfishness and other shortcomings. The more you know this going in, the less you will be blindsided by difficulty.
The key is fighting in a godly way, one that honors the Lord and treats your spouse with high esteem. You need the ability to extend grace, to not take cheap shots or make small things into massive things. You need to be free to say, “Hey, that hurt me,” without being confronted with a list of reasons it shouldn’t have. And where you struggle to reach consensus, ask the church community for help.
The biblical command is to not let the sun set on your anger, but the longer you stay up rehashing things, the more you inflame them. If you take that literally and you are up until 3 A.M., you’re exacerbating conflict, not solving it. The heart of that command is saying to your spouse, “I’m sorry. I love you. I know we aren’t done working this out yet. But I want you to know that I love you.”
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