I recently received in the mail a free copy of Joel R. Beeke’s Friends and Lovers: Cultivating Companionship and Intimacy in Marriage, published by Cruciform Press. I thoughtlessly discarded the packaging, so I’m not sure who was responsible for sending the book – the publisher or some other organization – but I am thankful for the opportunity to read and review this little gem.
Based on two lectures given by Beeke at a conference in 2011, the book is rather short at 96 (small) pages. In concise, pointed language, Beeke makes the most of the short amount of space, providing a wealth of biblical counsel and wisdom on the matters of friendship and sexuality in marriage.
The first part (pp. 11-44) is on friendship and is divided into three chapters: on the biblical foundation for friendship in marriage (marriage as created and intended by God), on the cultivation of friendship in marriage (through sharing yourselves, your faith, your trust, and your joy), and on various temptations that marital friendships face. This first part is loaded with biblical wisdom as Beeke ably takes passages from the book Proverbs that speak of friendship and relationships in general and applies them directly to marriage.
He uses one section, for example, to expound upon Proverbs 27:5-6: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Beeke wisely sets this forth as a calling to learn how to give and receive criticism with charity and generosity, and to do so thoughfully as “disciplined thankfulness” (35).
The second part (pp. 45-88) is on sexuality in marriage, and is divided into 9 sections (briefer than ordinary chapters) that unfold the biblical picture of sex as a good gift of God within the context of marriage. Beeke uses a wise combination of pointed and respectful language – much of it taken from the puritans – providing a treasure trove of pastoral advice for couples in all stages of the marriage relationship. He exhorts husbands and wives to embrace the goodness of sexuality within the freeing boundaries of God’s Word, showing how God’s Word frees us from both the rejection of sex and the idolizing of sex, from both asceticism and the perversion of human sexuality. He makes foundational use of Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1Timothy 4:1-5)
The solution to materialism and slavery to sex, as Beeke notes on p. 46, is not asceticism, but ”God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1Timothy 6:17). Beeke uses this insight, combined with the rich language of Proverbs and Song of Solomon (especially Proverbs 5), to set forth a positive vision for the goodness and beauty of sexuality in marriage.
The book concludes with a substantial list of thought-provoking discussion questions and a wealth of bibliographic guidance for further reading in the endnotes.
Joel Beeke’s pastoral advice in this short book serves well to help husbands and wives confess of each other in Christ the words of Song of Solomon 5:16: ”This is my beloved and this is my friend.”