Read With Us: The Meaning of Marriage – Week #6

Greetings, everybody!  This is Week #6 in our study of Timothy & Kathy Keller’s book, “The Meaning of Marriage”.  And this week’s topic is one that is highly debated and often misunderstood by both the secular culture and the Christian culture.  The topic, of course, is the subject of gender roles, and the different roles between a husband and wife.

Because of the subject matter, and because Kathy Keller has had more conversations on this subject than her husband, Kathy decided to write this chapter in her own words.  Wisely, she notes early on in the chapter that both men and women were created in the image of God.  One didn’t receive ‘better’ or ‘worse’ characteristics than the other sex, and both should be seen and treated as full equals, whether they are a man or a woman.

Additionally, the topic of the term ‘helper’ comes up in this chapter, as the creation account in the book of Genesis states that God created a ‘helper’ for Adam.  We’ve written about this on the blog before, but it’s worth saying again.  The term ‘helper’ (Hebrew ‘ezer) does not mean personal assistant.  In fact, the term is almost always used as an adjective for God Himself, and is often “used to describe military help, such as reinforcements, without which a battle would be lost.” (p.164 kindle)

Still, this subject of different gender roles within a marriage is a difficult subject.  Ephesians 5:21-32 uses terms such as “submit” for the wife, and “lead” for the husband.  Our culture finds these roles outright offensive, and even those who are Christians recognize that living out these roles is a struggle.

How do the Keller’s bring forth this difficult discussion?  Well, Kathy writes about what she calls, “The Dance of the Trinity”.  Take just a moment to read through Philippians 2:5-11 (HCSB):

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Now, take just a quick opportunity to read the passage again, and pay specific attention to the different roles offered by Jesus, and received by Him.

To summarize the Keller’s main point in Chapter 6 of “The Meaning of Marriage”, while the husband and the wife have different roles, they’re BOTH the Jesus role.  A wife will read this passage and notice that Jesus was submissive to the Father’s will, and because of this, God highly exalted him higher than anybody else.  A husband will read this and notice that Jesus served his bride, the church unconditionally.  He emptied himself by taking the form of a slave, thus always put others’ needs ahead of his own.

One of the reasons culture has such a difficult time with the subject of gender roles, is that they see this model as offensive and oppressive towards women.  But the model is anything but oppressive. It’s not oppressive because it has nothing to do with roles of household chores and who is required to stay home, work, do the dishes, change the oil, or any other ‘task’.  The roles are spiritual in nature.  Therefore, the reason our culture loathes the subject is that most people don’t think of spiritual implications of anything, only personal, individual implications.  The difference is remarkable.

Think of it this way: the model shows that a husband must put God first in his life, his marriage second, his family third, and other things such as his career, personal hobbies, etc. further on down the list.  It requires a husband to be completely selfless, to sacrifice all of himself for his bride.  It requires a husband not to just be the leader OF the family, but to be a servant-leader FOR his family.  Honestly, we’ve never met a woman who wouldn’t get behind this being lived out in an appropriate manner.

Outside the discussion of roles, Kathy also discusses some personality differences between men and women.  Men often thrive toward independence, while women prefer dependence.    She writes:

“Men see women’s need for ‘interdependence’ as sheer dependence, and women see men’s need for independence as pure ego.  Husbands and wives grow distant from one another because they allow themselves to engage in a constant daily drumbeat of thoughts of inner disdain for the gendered difference of their spouse.”

But she goes on to show that even though we are ‘Other’ than God, He still embraces us.  And this is essentially how a marriage relationship was designed to function.

“Christ embraced the ultimate “Other” – sinful humanity. He didn’t exclude us by simply consigning us to judgment.  He embraced us by dying on the cross for our sins. To love the Other, especially an Other that is hostile, entails sacrifice.  It means sometimes experiencing betrayal, rejection, and attacks. The easiest thing is to leave. But Jesus did not do that. he embraced and loved us, the Other, and brought us into a new unity with Himself.” (p.175 kindle)

This is what makes a marriage relationship so much greater than any relationship we can have on earth.  We have the opportunity to embrace somebody of complete otherness than ourselves, just as Jesus accepted us.  We have the opportunity to love them, to embrace their differences, and to make sacrifices – both in submission and in leading – so that we can be brought together as one-flesh, just as we all are one body in Christ.  As the scriptures say:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:4-6 HCSB)

4 thoughts on “Read With Us: The Meaning of Marriage – Week #6

  1. Now I have to go back and start citing verses. Sorry, while I agree with some of this passage, the summary made on male/female gender roles pulled from one passage and a section of that passage that does not mention husband/wife and male/female roles does not even come close to covering the entirety or the full nature of the “rules” for us to live by. Please give me a day to give a proper response to this.

  2. Jonathan, this post is a short summary of one chapter from the Keller’s book, “The Meaning of Marriage”. The entire chapter gives many additional scripture references and insights into the subject, and is well worth reading. Additionally, the Generous Husband’s blog has a 7-part series posted on this subject, and even this only scratches the surface of this complicated topic. Nevertheless, it, too, is worth the read for all interested in studying out this topic in much greater depth than this short post can provide. (

    • We currently have 58 people in our local congregation going through the study materials, and as we follow-up with various couples they all say something to the effect of, “It isn’t anything like what we thought it would be — and we say that in a good way!” It is a seriously good book on the subject of marriage, and one I’m going to begin utilizing more and more for pre-marriage counseling as well. Hope you have the opportunity to read it soon.

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