Forgive me while I jump ahead a couple chapters to present a summary of chapter 7, “Singleness and Marriage” from Tim Keller’s book, “The Meaning of Marriage.”
I wanted to post a picture of me as a single, so here ya go. HAHA!
Well, not quite. I was twelve when I had my first boyfriend, and then maintained a steady stream of boyfriends until getting married when I was 21. Welcome to our Western society’s modern dating practices.
Keller explains that, “Somewhere after the turn of the century, modern dating developed. The word first appeared in print in this context in 1914. … As dating spread throughout society, it not only individualized the whole process, removing the couple from family context, but it also changed the focus of romance from friendship and character assessment to spending money, being seen, and having fun.” (pg 234) Yep. Pretty much.
To fully understand the context of Christian marriage, you must likewise understand the value of Christian singlehood. Have you ever considered the fact that Jesus Christ himself was never married? Clearly, marriage is not a prerequisite for a fulfilling Christian life. As Keller writes, “We should be neither overly elated by getting married nor overly disappointed by not doing so – because Christ is the only spouse that can truly fulfill us and God’s family the only family that will truly embrace and satisfy us.” (pg 222)
Christianity is unique in its consistent affirmation of singlehood. “Single adult Christians were bearing testimony that God, not family, was their hope. God would guarantee their future, first by giving them their truest family – the church – so that they never lacked for brothers and sisters, father and mothers, in Christ. But ultimately, Christians’ inheritance is nothing less than the fullness of the kingdom of God in the new heavens and new earth. … The Christian church in the West, unfortunately, does not seem to have maintained its grasp on the goodness of singleness.” (pg 224)
Keller encourages singles to learn to rest and rejoice in their marriage to Christ, because “the same idolatry of marriage that is distorting their single lives will eventually distort their married live if they find a partner. … Demote marriage and family in your heart, put God first, and begin to enjoy the goodness of single life.” (pg 227)
One blessing of singleness that Keller points out is the opportunity to grow in wisdom about the opposite gender. As singles, you can learn more about the unique strengths, communication styles, decision-making skills, life priorities and leadership styles of both men and women. Make cross-gender friendships and grow in wisdom. This will help you whether you someday get married, or never get married. God has created both male and female on purpose. Don’t wait until you’re married to learn what you can about the opposite sex.
But Keller is in no way minimizing the value of marriage. He isn’t. Rather, he wants to encourage a proper Christian worldview of marriage, different than the “traditional view of marriage” that life doesn’t begin until you get married, or the “Western society’s” sex-and-romance view of marriage.
Keller warns that modern “adults in Western society are deeply shaped by individualism, a fear and even hatred of limiting options for the sake of others. Many people are living single lives today not in the conscious, lonely misery of wanting marriage too much, but rather in the largely unconscious, lonely misery of wanting marriage too little, out of fear of it. While traditional societies tend to make an idol out of marriage (because they make an idol out of the family and tribe), contemporary societies tend to make an idol of independence (because they make an idol out of individual choice and happiness).” (pg 231) PREACH IT.
As a single, I fell into both of these traps. I have both made an idol of marriage, and of independence. To be totally honest, I wanted to get married, so I could have a husband and children to love me. I didn’t think I could live a fulfilled life without being married. Ultimately, marriage was all about me. I made an idol of family. Having a husband and children was the key to my own happiness.
What have I learned after almost 25 years of marriage? Rather than bringing me happiness, this idol-making, in fact, made me unhappy.
A husband is a really poor imitation of Almighty God. So are kids. Every husband, no matter how good, will fall short. Every child, no matter how terrific, will fall short.
No one can fulfill me like Jesus. No one can love me like Jesus.
In the process of revealing my idol-making self, God has taught me so many good lessons. Patiently and lovingly, God is stripping me of my own self-sufficiency and selfishness.
As Keller writes, “How different seeking marriage would be if … we were to view marriage as a vehicle for spouses helping each other become their glorious future-selves through sacrificial service and spiritual friendship. What happens if we see the mission of marriage to teach us about our sins in unique and profound ways and to grow us out of them through providing someone who speaks the truth in love to us? … Ironically, this view of marriage eventually does provide unbelievable personal fulfillment, but not in the sacrifice-free and superficial way that contemporary people want it to come. Instead, it gives the unique, breathtaking fulfillment of visible character growth.” (pg 232)
Keller wraps us this chapter on Singleness with twelve pages of “practical counsel for marriage seekers.”
- Recognize that there are seasons for not seeking marriage.
- Understand the “gift of singleness.”
- Get more serious about seeking marriage as you get older.
- Do not allow yourself deep emotional involvement with a nonbelieving person.
- Feel attraction in the most comprehensive sense. (rather than just physical attraction to someone’s outward appearance)
- Don’t let things get too passionate too quickly.
- Don’t become a “faux spouse” for someone who won’t commit to you.
- Get and submit to lots of community input.
If you are single, or are counseling someone who is single, there is such great depth in each of these points which I can’t cover in this brief summary. Please get the book and spend the necessary time to consider each of them.
Friends, God is good if you’re married. God is good if you’re single. God is good all the time. All the time God is good. He is working for your best in your singleness and He is working for your best in your marriage. We can trust Him in every season and in every circumstance. God is totally good and totally sovereign and totally good. All the time.
I love Timothy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage. Each chapter is so full of wisdom and truth. In Chapter 3, Keller looks at “The Essence of Marriage.” I encourage you to buy the complete book. You can read my highlights from Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.
“When the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive, but by how much you are willing to give of yourself for someone. How much are you willing to lose for the sake of this person? How much of your freedom are you willing to forsake? How much of your precious time, emotion, and resources are you willing to invest in this person?” (pg 80)
“Traditional societies made the family the ultimate value in life, and so marriage was a mere transaction that helped your family’s interests. By contrast, contemporary Western societies make the individual’s happiness the ultimate value, and so marriage becomes primarily an experience of romantic fulfillment. But the Bible sees God as the supreme good – not the individual or the family – and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feeling and duty, passion and promise. That is because at the heart of the Biblical idea of marriage is the covenant.” (pg 83-84)
“In a covenant, the good of the relationship takes precedence over the immediate needs of the individual. … Sociologists argue that in contemporary Western society, the marketplace has become so dominant that the consumer model increasingly characterizes most relationships that historically were covenantal, including marriage.” (pg 84)
“Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love, but a mutually binding promise of future love.” (pg 91) Keller explains that entering into a binding covenant enhances and supercharges the love relationship, rather than stifling it. Because the husband and wife have been bound in a “til death do we part” covenant, they can have a true sense of security to open up and be vulnerable. Because of their covenant, a married couple no longer ha to “sell themselves” or keep up facades. “We can lay the last layer of our defenses down and be completely naked, both physically and in every other way.” (pg 89)
“When you first fall in love, you think you love the person, but you don’t really. You can’t know who the person is right away. That takes years. … What you think of as being head over heels in love is in large part a gust of ego gratification, but it’s nothing like the profound satisfaction of being known and loved.” (pg 99-100) “
This reminds me of my immense sense of amazement that God would love me, sinful little ol’ me, so much that He would die for me. God KNOWS the REAL me, and yet, He STILL loves, pursues and sacrifices Himself for ME! Truly, this is amazing love! This is how God designed marriage. A husband and wife are to fully know one another and yet keep on loving one another until death parts them. Like Adam and Eve, we are to be naked and unashamed.
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known, and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.” (pg 101)
“Nearly everyone thinks that the Bible’s directive to “love your neighbor” is wise, right, and good. But notice that it is a command, and emotions cannot be commanded. The Bible does not call us to like our neighbor, to have affection and warm feelings toward him or her. No, the call is to love your neighbor, and that must primarily mean displaying a set of behaviors.” (pg 104)
“If your definition of “love” stresses affectionate feelings more than unselfish actions, you will cripple your ability to maintain and grow strong lover relationships. On the other hand, if you stress the action of love over the feeling, you enhance and establish the feeling.” (pg 106)
In a radio talk during World War II, C.S. Lewis explained, “When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him less. … Whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less. … The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he “likes” them: The Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.” (pg 107)
Keller wisely explains how important it is to continue to deliberately love your spouse, even though your feelings rise and fall with the passing seasons. “In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite the lack of feeling.” (pg 111)
So often, as a parent, you sacrifice again and again for your child, expecting little to nothing in return. Your baby cries and dirties diapers and refuses to sleep, yet you keep on taking care of him. Your teenager rebels and argues and complains, and still you love him. “After eighteen years of this, even if your child is an unattractive person to everyone else, you can’t help but love her dearly. Why? Because you’ve been forced to operate on the Biblical pattern. You have had to do the actions of love regardless of your feelings and therefore now you have deep feelings of love for your child, however loveable she is or not.” (pg 115-116)
Consider applying that model to how you treat your husband or wife. Rather than giving in order to get, rather than turning a cold shoulder in revenge when they don’t do what you want, continue to press in to your marriage, performing the actions of love while you wait for your feelings to return.
Keller concludes the chapter by remembering Jesus’s faithful love on the cross, despite being denied, abandoned and betrayed. Jesus stayed on the cross, the righteous for the unrighteous, demonstrating His great love for us, saying, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”
I pray that my marriage can look like that. I pray that I can forgive and love my husband like Jesus forgives and loves me. I pray that others will know Jesus’s faithful love more, because of the faithful love they see in my marriage. I’m so thankful that, even though marriage is hard, it’s a precious gift to me and to a watching world.
What do I KNOW?
I know God is unchangeable.
I know God does not lie.
I know God will keep His promises.
I know He is my refuge and encouragement and hope.
I know He is a sure and steadfast anchor.
I know Jesus is the perfect, eternal, faithful high priest who pleads for me before the Father’s throne of grace.
These things I KNOW.
How about you? What do you know? Let’s start speaking truth into our souls.
“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 6:17-20 ESV