Read With Us: The Meaning of Marriage – Week #5

Greetings, everybody!

Before we dive into this post we just wanted to let you know that we had a fantastic week preparing for a talk and Q & A for a Marriage Works evening with some friends in another congregation.  Around 90-100 people came out for a really fun discussion on all things Romance & Sex, and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to participate!  While we hope more opportunities such as this present themselves in the future, we look forward to writing a few posts and trying to play catch-up on the blog a little bit this week.

This is Part 5 of an 8 week series focusing on Timothy Keller’s book, “The Meaning of Marriage.”  If you’d like to start back at the beginning, feel free to start here and get everything you need.  With that said, let’s go ahead and jump into Chapter 5 of “The Meaning of Marriage”, titled Loving The Stranger.

Have you ever noticed that you’re not the same person you used to be?  When I (Justin) first got married, I didn’t enjoy reading much, I was ready to be finished with my education, I was more argumentative, and I never once had the thought of, “I should start writing a blog about marriage and sex.”  These are only a few changes in my own life, as the list could go on and on.

Fast forward 12 years, and I enjoy reading, I enjoy taking Master’s Degree classes, I’m more conversational and relational than I was way back then.  Not only that, but there were probably 3 or 4 other shades of me somewhere in between as well.

Well, the Keller’s discuss this very point early on in Chapter 5: both you and your spouse’s personalities will change in time.  Your personality will change.  Their personality will change.  It’s going to happen whether you want it to or not.  So there come times when you are married to a completely different person than the one you said “I do” to so many years ago.  When this happens, you’re put in a position where you must love the stranger.

As noted in Chapter 4, the Keller’s again mention the importance of friendship in marriage.  If your marriage is about true friendship, if it’s about helping one another grow in holiness, if it’s about seeing your spouse as the person God created them to be, then these personality changes don’t matter nearly as much. On this point, the Keller’s list three ‘powers’ that are inherent in the marriage relationship.  These include: 1) the power of truth, 2) the power of love, and 3) the power of grace.  When marriage is seen as something created by God and both parties effectively utilize these three powers in their marriage, then nothing, not even the feeling of your spouse being a stranger can stop your marriage from thriving.

One common question on this topic may be, “What if I am committed to the marriage relationship in this way but my spouse is not?”  Or perhaps, “What if we’re both committed to our marriage, but one of us has become a bit too lackadaisical in their role?

While every marriage will encounter situations such as this, each of those situations would be best answered on a case by case basis.  However, the Keller’s share about a time when Tim was spending far too much time involved in his career, and Kathy was continually sharing with him about how his commitment to their family must be more important.  No matter how many times she told him, he still seemed to spend too many hours involved at work.  While we won’t share exactly how she gets through to him (you really do need to read the book for yourself), Kathy takes some very drastic measures to communicate to him how his time at work is slowly destroying their marriage and family.  In the end, he finally ‘gets it’, and begins to take appropriate steps to ensure his wife and family that they are more important to him than his job.

I’m sure that many men can relate to this.  We get bogged down with work.  We have some serious responsibilities through the week, and sometimes when we come home we don’t want to think about having one more responsibility.  But our family must always be our primary responsibility.  And not only must family be our primary responsibility, but we must continually remember how marriage is a reflection of the gospel.  Near the end of Chapter 5, the Keller’s write:

Marriage has unique power to show us the truth of who we really are. Marriage has unique power to redeem our past and heal our self-image through love. And marriage has unique power to show us the grace of what God did for us in Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells us that Jesus laid down his life for us, forgiving at great cost us to make us something beautiful. And because he has done it for us, we can do the same for others. (p.159 – kindle)

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1) If somebody asked you, “What is the best way for a couple to stay ‘in love’, how would you respond?

2) Kathy Keller took some dramatic steps to keep Tim accountable to their marriage/family.  What, exactly, does it mean that the husband and wife should both keep one accountable?  How do you best accomplish this in your marriage?

Read With Us: The Meaning of Marriage – Week #4

For those who may not be reading with us, this post still has some great thoughts in it for you.  So, feel free to keep reading.  For those who are reading with us, we are now 1/2 way through “The Meaning of Marriage.”  Generally speaking, most people are able to get through the first 1/2 of a book or a bible study.  But then something happens.  Books, studies, etc…they start to get set aside for other things deemed more important.  We’d like to encourage you at this time to not allow this to happen.  Chapter 4 is an excellent chapter, and this message by Mark Driscoll is a great message all couples should listen to and discuss with one another.  With that said, let’s dive into some thoughts on Chapter 4 from “The Meaning of Marriage”.

Have you ever noticed that both men and women seem to be wired for relationships?  It’s true, people naturally desire to be in community with others.  Well, the Keller’s argue that this is a direct result of humans being created in the image of God.  As the Trinity is in constant community with one another, so we are designed to be in community with others.

This is seen in Genesis 2.  As you read through the creation account, you constantly see the phrase, “…and it was good…and it was good…and it was good…and it was good.”  But then something happens, “It is NOT good.”  What was it that was not good?  It was not good for Adam to be alone.  He needed somebody else.  He needed a companion.  He needed a friend.  God said, “I will give you a helper.”  The Hebrew term here for helper, ezer, means helper-friend.  It doesn’t mean secretary or assistant.  In fact, it’s a term most often used as God as Israel’s helper or strength throughout the Old Testament.  Just as God was seen a friend and husband to Israel, so Adam and Eve’s marriage was for friendship and companionship.  Indeed, your spouse, your lover, is to be your best friend. Even the woman in the Song of Songs states:

“His mouth is sweetness.
He is absolutely desirable.
This is my love, and this is my friend,
young women of Jerusalem.”

From here, the Keller’s also talk about what it means to fall in love:

“It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, ‘I see who God is making you, and it excites me!”

This ought to change how a couple looks at their marriage.  Yes, they are to be loving toward one another.  Yes, they are to enjoy one another’s company.  Yes, they are to enjoy their sexual relationship.  But most of all, they are to be friends who constantly encourage one another to become the person God has created them to be.

For those who may be reading this who are not participating in our Meaning of Marriage study, we have created an “On Your Own” section for each couple to complete each week.  We’d like to encourage you to listen to the Mark Driscoll message we linked above, and then go through this activity with your spouse:

On Your Own:

Take the opportunity to ask your spouse a simple, yet very difficult question: “How good of a friend have I been to you?”  Give them full permission to speak openly and honestly.  Then, follow-up with, “How can I be a better friend?”

As your spouse asks you this question, remember to focus on the importance of holiness within your marriage.  As a friend, your desire is for your spouse to help you become a more godly person, and your desire is to see this in them as well.  Talk with your spouse about friendship and holiness, and how you can work together to improve in both.

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What are your thoughts on the Keller’s statement about what it means to fall in love?

In what ways is your spouse your best friend?

What, specifically, do you and your spouse do to encourage one another to be holy?

Read With Us: The Meaning of Marriage – Week #3

It seems hard to believe that we’re already 3 weeks into our first ever ‘Read With Us’ campaign.  At the same time, we’re glad to make it to week #3.  Last week’s discussion on the subject of selfishness / self-centeredness was a very important one, but it’s not a chapter that most people look forward to reading over and over.  In fact, one person in our own small group stated, “I think I’d rather hit myself in the head with a sledgehammer than read Chapter 2 again.”  Translation – this person ‘got’ what the Keller’s were talking about, and it hit a little close to home.  In fact, it hit close to home for everybody.  Therefore, Chapter 2 is one where we must all remember to focus on what God is teaching us as individuals, not focus on what [we think] God is teaching our spouse.

Some additional comments we received from Week #2 had to do with the Keller’s comments on how people who have been wounded by others (whether physically, emotionally, etc.) are extremely self-centered.  Those who have experienced deep wounds have a very difficult time playing well with others.  When they do play well with others, it’s usually to make themselves ‘feel’ better about their own wounds, but they continue suffering from high levels of self-centeredness.  If you missed this section in chapter 2 (and in Timothy Keller’s message we recommended purchasing), feel free to read through that section again.  Take serious opportunity to evaluate your own self-centeredness and the impact it may be having on your marriage relationship.

With that said, let’s go ahead and move on to Chapter 3: The Essence of Marriage.

Here in Chapter 3, the Keller’s begin by discussing a mindset that is quite popular in our modern culture.  This mindset goes something like this, “We don’t need to get married.  I don’t need a piece of paper to love you.”  Essentially, what this statement really means is, “I don’t love you enough to get married to you.  I don’t love you enough to be fully committed.”  Those who say statements such as these see love as a mere emotion.  They feel loved.  But they don’t want to completely give themselves over as a loving sacrifice for their partner.

An incorrect view of love may infiltrate a marriage as well.  If just one person within a marriage has an incorrect view of love, it will impact all aspects of their relationship, including the sexual relationship. It means that sex is offered not as a way to serve your spouse, but only to please yourself.  But if marriage is viewed as a covenant, you will use every aspect of marriage, including the sexual relationship, as a means to serve your spouse.  (Much more about the marriage sexual relationship will be discussed in Week #8.)

With this in mind, the Keller’s state that, “…the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other.”  This brings to light the idea of marriage as a covenant.  A covenant, according to scripture, is different than a contract today in a number of ways.

1) A covenant is made before God AND your spouse.

A contract is a legally binding agreement made between 2 people.  Contracts can be broken or changed. This is why the divorce rate happens to be so high in the United  States (the Keller’s noted in chapter 1 that the divorce rate is near 45% in the U.S.).  Many in our modern-day culture continue to view marriage as a contract, not a covenant.  But the Keller’s point out that, “to break faith with your spouse is to break faith with God at the same time.”

You see, a covenant is a very big deal and if you study through all of the covenants God made in the Old Testament (Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, New Covenant, etc.) you’ll see a great significance of a covenant.

With this in mind, does the Bible say there is never a time when divorce is acceptable?  No.  The Bible does say that divorce is permissible if one commits adultery.  There may be other severe cases of physical or emotional abuse where divorce may be permissible as well.  Outside of this, divorce is only a result of what was discussed in great length in Chapter 2 – self-centeredness.

2) A covenant rids personal ‘freedom’ for the good of the marriage.

Earlier in the book, the Keller’s noted that a modern understanding of marriage includes a great deal of personal freedom.  The mindset is usually a bargaining mindset of, “You let me do what I want to do and I’ll let you do what you want to do and we’ll be just fine.”  It puts the individual as more important than the relationship.

But a biblical view of marriage shows that the relationship is a picture of the relationship Christ has with the church.  Remember the covenants we mentioned above (Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, New Covenant, etc.)?  Again, studying those out shows the significance of a covenant.  And Paul explains in Ephesians 5:21-32 that a marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church.  Jesus doesn’t divorce Himself from His church.  He loves His people so much that he bled and died and for them.  This is how a marriage is to operate, a deep love so intense that each individual will do whatever it takes to keep the marriage alive.

3) A covenant is not about love, but is instead about future love.

In a wedding ceremony, neither the bride or groom stands up to say, “I love you because…”.  Instead, they’re standing up to make a promise.  Good wedding vows state, “I promise to be loving…to be tender…in good times and bad…in sickness and health…until we die.”  It’s a major, major commitment and a major, major promise.  And again, the focus is on love as an action, not as something to be received from the other.

There are many other great section within Chapter 3, but we’d like to point out just one more.  The Keller’s include a section about how actions of love lead to feelings of love.  The premise of this section is that there will be times when you may not feel love toward your spouse.  However, if you do the appropriate thing and act loving toward them, and continue to do so, it will lead to feelings of love.

An example provided goes something like this: Imagine you have a child who is not well-mannered, well-behaved, refuses to listen, and so on.  Over the years you don’t give up on them.  They may have deplorable behavior but you continue to be loving toward them.  In essence, you view your relationship with that child as a covenantal one – you won’t give up on them no matter what.  Well, by the time they get to be 16-18 years old, as you’ve worked and worked with that child through the years, you feel an immense amount of love toward that child.  When they grow up and leave the house, you feel like a piece of you has moved away.

Sadly, this is why some marriages end AFTER the kids have grown up and left the house.  So much time and energy has been spent focusing on the kids that the husband and wife forgot (or neglected) to focus on one another.  They were living a covenantal relationship with their kids, but not with their spouse.  Once the kids have grown up, they’re not sure what to do with or for one another.  It seems that all of their life’s value and identity was wrapped up in their kids, and not in their marriage.

Some may wrestle through this idea of actions of love lead to feelings of love.  This is understandable.  Wrestle all you will, but actions of love are the benchmark of the marriage relationship.  Actions of love is the essential characteristic of a healthy marriage.  Actions of love is exactly what Jesus offered each one of us.  On this note, the Keller’s end Chapter 3 by writing:

“…when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, ‘I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.’ No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us–denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him–and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed.  He said, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’  He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely.  That is why I am going to love my spouse.”  Speak your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.” (p.99)

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What did you find most interesting from Chapter 3?  Which question(s) in the study guide did you enjoy the most and why?