The Meaning of Marriage – Chapter 5 – Loving the Stranger

Keller begins this chapter with a quote from Stanley Hauerwas, “We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is … learning to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.” (pg 147)

This opening paragraph jumped out at me because I’ve often thought that Bill and I should’ve dated longer before entering the covenant of marriage. In many ways, I still think that, but frankly, people change. We certainly did. Marriage changed us. Becoming parents changed us. Trials changed us.

The person you marry after dating for ten years, won’t be the same person after ten years of marriage. Certainly, we ought to do our “due diligence” to get to know someone before getting married, but we also ought to be prepared for that person to grow and mature in unexpected ways.

Keller continues, “Marriage brings two human beings into closer contact than any other relationship can bring them. The parent-child relationship is of course very close – they live together and see one another’s character – but there is a major power differential there. The child and the parents are on such different planes that it is easy for either the parent to dismiss the child’s criticism or the child to dismiss the parent’s. Besides, it is expected that children grow up and leave.” (pg 151) “While your character flaws [fearfulness, pride, perfectionism, impatience, miserliness, lack of discipline, etc.] may have created mild problems for other people, they will create major problems for your spouse and your marriage.” (pg 153)

As a child, I’m sure that my controlling, know-it-all personality was really hard for my parents.

Then, as a parent, I’m sure that my controlling, know-it-all personality has been really hard for my kids.

But I’m sure that my controlling, know-it-all personality has been the most difficult for my husband. My struggle to humble myself and submit my will to his, has been the hardest for him to handle.  Indeed, as Keller puts it,

“Marriage brings out the worst in you. It doesn’t create your weaknesses … it reveals them.” (pg 153)

I’ve often been inclined to blame all of our marriage struggles on my husband or to think that I must have married the wrong person. In reality, my own sinful pride and selfishness have often been the true culprit.

As Keller writes, “Marriage by its very nature has the “power of truth” – the power to show you the truth about who you are. People are appalled when they get sharp, far-reaching criticisms from their spouses. They immediately begin to think they married the wrong person. But you must realize that it isn’t ultimately your spouse who is exposing the sinfulness of you heart – it’s marriage itself. Marriage does not so much bring you into confrontation with your spouse as confront you with yourself. Marriage shows you a realistic, unflattering picture of who you are and then takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to pay attention to it.” (pg 154) Ouch.

So often we balk when our spouse tries to share ways in which we need to grow. Keller urges the reader to “give your spouse the right to talk to you about what is wrong with you.” (pg 155) Often the very person who rubs you wrong, is the exact person that the Lord is going to use to conform you into His likeness. If your spouse reveals how impatient, prideful and selfish you are, it isn’t your spouse’s fault. This is a hard pill to swallow, especially if we still think that marriage is all about our happiness, rather than a vehicle to bring God glory.

Keller goes on to explain, though, that marriage has not only this great power of exposing the true flaws of your heart, but also to heal your deepest wounds. The powerful, unconditional, faithful love of a spouse can bind up the wounds of the past like nothing else. “We must learn to send love in forms that the other person can comprehend.” (pg 169) We each hear, feel and receive love in different ways. Sometimes we particularly need to receive a certain communication of love because a significant person in our past was inept at it. Sometimes we need a certain form of love because of our current life circumstances. “We tend to give love through the channels in which we like to receive it.” (pg 172)

“In the incarnation, God came to us in a manner that we could grasp. So we, too, must clothe our love in the forms to which our spouse can relate.” (pg 171)

Loving your spouse should be seen as a conscious action, rather than an involuntary feeling. We must transition from “falling in love” to demonstrating love. Keller then shares his description of several ways to demonstrate love, including affection, friendship and service.

But, as is Keller’s way, the author once again returns to the importance of practicing gospel-love with your spouse. In marriage, we see the immense power of truth and love intertwined, because our spouse knows our sin all too well, not like a physician or counselor looking in from the outside. Rather, they know our sins intimately and personally because they have been the recipient of our selfish, careless, insensitive actions.

This pain can push us one of two ways. We can either lash out in anger, telling our spouse how foolish, messy and selfish they are, destroying them with our truth-telling. Or we can fall prey to the opposite error: avoidance. We can stuff and hide how we really feel, affirming them with charming lies.

“The gospel transforms us so our self-understanding is no longer based on our performance in life. We are so evil and sinful and flawed that Jesus had to die for us. We were so lost that nothing less than the death of the divine Son of God could save us. But we are so loved and valued that he was willing to die for us. The Lord of the universe loved us enough to do that! So the gospel humbles us into the dust and at the very same time exalts us to the heavens. We are sinners but completely loved and accepted in Christ at the same time.” (pg 185)

Friends, Jesus knows us to the bottom of our heart. He knows our secret deeds and thoughts. And yet He loved us enough to die for us. This is true love.

Jesus was perfectly full of truth and perfectly full of grace. Can we do that, too?

This is the beauty of marriage.

The final sentence of Chapter 5 has new meaning for me today as my oldest daughter begins looking forward to her wedding day next spring. Keller ends this chapter with, “What we should say to each other on our wedding day is, ‘As great as you look today, someday you will stand with me before God in such beauty that it will make these clothes look like rags.'”

Let’s pray together for our children and their future spouses. Let’s pray together for the newlyweds in our midst who are thinking, “I must have married the wrong person.” And let’s pray for our own hearts and for our spouses as we walk this difficult road of marriage hand-in-hand.

TWIG

 

The Meaning of Marriage – chapter 4 – The Mission of Marriage

Hello! I have successfully completed Tim and Kathy Keller’s fantastic book, “The Meaning of Marriage.” I hope that you own this book for yourself. If not, I hope these chapter thoughts and highlights will encourage you to get one for yourself!   You can click these links to read my thoughts and highlights from chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3 and chapter 7 in my blog. The Kellers just released a couples daily devotional book that I’m hoping to read next year. Anyone else interested?

Keller’s answer to the question, “What is the purpose of marriage?” begins with the foundational principle that marriage is a friendship. God Himself exists as a triune being and God saw that it was not good for man to be alone.

In order to fully understand the mission of marriage, one must study the nature of friendship. Keller initially points out two particular features of good friends (transparency and constancy — “Real friends always let you in, and they never let you down”), but goes on to point out a third quality which he calls “common passion” or “sympathy.” Good friends have common interests or common visions, even when they have very different temperaments.  This means that “any two Christians, with nothing else but a common faith in Christ, can have a robust friendship, helping each other on their journey toward the new creation, as well as doing ministry together in the world.” (pg 124) Christ is a common bond that can cement two very different people together whether in marriage or in friendship.

Friends should encourage and affirm, as well as critique, one another. “If any two unrelated Christians are to provoke each other toward love and goodness (Hebrews 10:24), are to affirm each other’s gifts and hold each other accountable to grow out of their sins (Hebrews 3:13), how much more should a husband and wife do that?” (pg 130)

Mrs. Kathy Keller, “often says that most people, when they are looking for a spouse, are looking for a finished statue when they should be looking for a wonderful block of marble. Not so you can create the kind of person you want, but rather because you see what kind of person Jesus is making. When Michelangelo was asked how he carved his magnificent David, his reply is reputed to have been, “I looked inside the marble and just took away the bits that weren’t David.” When looking for a marriage partner, each must be able to look inside the other and see what God is doing and be excited about being part of the process of liberating the emerging “new you.”” (pg 133)

Rather than expecting to marry the “perfect person,” we must recognize that we all have flaws and imperfections. Instead, we ought to see marriage as a deep friendship between two people working together to be conformed into the likeness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Your spouse has got to be your best friend, or be on the way to becoming your best friend, or you won’t have a strong, rich marriage that endures and that makes you both vastly better persons for having been in it.” (pg 136)

If you see your spouse as mainly a sexual partner or financial partner or homemaker, “you will find that you will need pursuits outside of marriage to really engage your whole soul. In that case, children, parents, career, political or social activism, hobbies, or a network of close friends – one or more of these things – will capture your imagination, provide joy and meaning and absorb emotional energy more than your marriage. And that will be deadly. Your marriage will slowly die if your spouse senses that he or she is not the first priority in your life.” (pg 139)

“When some good thing becomes more engrossing and important than your spouse, it can destroy the marriage.” (pg 140) When you become the bride of Christ, you are expected to give Christ the supreme place in your life. God is a jealous God and He rightfully will not share you with another. Likewise, “marriage won’t work unless you put your marriage and your spouse first, and you don’t turn good things, like parents, children, career, and hobbies, into pseudo-spouses.” (pg 143)

“Marriage has the power to set the course of your life as a whole. If your marriage is strong, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are filled with trouble and weakness, it won’t matter. You will be able to move out into the world in strength. However, if your marriage is weak, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are marked by success and strength, it won’t matter. You will move out into the world in weakness.” (pg 144)

“Every page in the Bible cries that the journey to this horizon cannot be accomplished alone. We must face it and share it with brothers and sisters, friends of our heart. And the very best human friendship possible for that adventure is with the lover-friend who is your spouse.” (pg 145)

In thinking through this chapter again, I realize how wrong my thinking was as a single person. I had believed so many of our culture’s lies about the purpose of marriage.

If you, like me, are feeling discouraged after reading this chapter, let’s remind ourselves of what we KNOW about God. We know that God is absolutely faithful and absolutely good, absolutely sovereign and powerful and wise. We know that God’s steadfast love never ends and that His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) We know that “what is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27) We know that God is working all things together for good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28)

You can’t change your spouse, but with God’s grace and strength, you can begin to change you.

How can you begin to make your husband your closest friend and top priority?

How can you build common interests, in faith and in your daily activities?

We’re in this together, for the glory of God. TWIG

“The Meaning of Marriage” – Chapter 7 – Singleness and Marriage

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.

The Meaning of Marriage – Chapter 3 – The Essence of Marriage

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.