Friends and Lovers

Joel Beeke’s latest book (is it just me, or does he actually have a “latest” book every month or so?) is Cruciform Press’s featured book for February. Friends and Lovers: Cultivating Companionship and Intimacy in Marriage boasts endorsements from an array of Reformed evangelical pastors and professors, and rightly so; the little book (96 pages) is packed with solid biblical exposition and counsel.

The first section, on friendship in marriage, emphasizes two things that our culture seems to have forgotten: real friendship comes from the work of sharing your entire self, not clicking buttons on facebook, and even in a good marriage where the husband and wife are close friends, there will be temptations to resist – ones besides pornography and adultery.

The second chapter includes subsections on sharing yourselves, your faith, your trust, and your joy, starting with biblical foundations and examples before moving on to application, all in fresh, biblical ways. Passages like this one show that Beeke is first a theologian and pastor: “John 15:15 tells us that Jesus said, ‘Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.’ Christ’s words remind us that sharing ourselves is the heart of friendship. We must love each other as Christ loved us” (22).

Chapter three addresses temptations in marital friendship – the less obvious ones which erode a relationship slowly, often leading to adultery over time. Included are avoiding correction, imbalance in other relationships, and personal crises.

The last two-thirds of the book deal with sexual intimacy in marriage. Derek Thomas accurately describes this section as “surprisingly candid without a trace of smuttiness.” Joel Beeke avoids the pitfalls that so many evangelicals have fallen into when addressing this topic, enlisting not only a Puritan style of tact and frankness, but also the Puritans themselves and their wisdom in addressing this topic. He starts the section with the gospel – a gospel which “motivates us to make sacred love” (45). Clearly connecting the dots between a healthy spiritual life and a strong sexual relationship with your spouse, this section is as helpful as it is counter-cultural: “Making love is hardly bearing a cross. But making love, if it is truly an act of love, is self denial” (71).

So many books on marriage are built on the “marriage” passages of Scripture – Ephesians 5:25ff., etc. But Friends and Lovers, while utilizing those passages, turns at least as often to sections of Scripture that reveal God’s character, the gospel, and God’s instructions to His church. This little volume is saturated with the Person and work of Christ, keeping a healthly, God-glorifying marriage in its proper, secondary place. It left me thinking more about Christ-like holiness than it did about my marriage, which is exactly the one thing that my marriage most needs.

The one thing that bothered me about the book was the cover – while I’m no fan of fuzzy, pastel images of flowers and lace, the black and blue clip art of a couple escaping a dark alley seemed a little Stalin-esque for the contents. But with some study questions at the back to help you think through and apply biblical principles to your particular marriage, at $8.45, this book is a must.