Read With Us: The Meaning of Marriage – Week #2

Welcome back!  We hope you’re enjoying reading through Timothy & Kathy Keller’s book, “The Meaning of Marriage” with us.  If you’ve just found our blog and you’re reading this for the first time, feel free to start back at our introduction to this series’ of posts.

One of the things we mentioned last week was that “The Meaning of Marriage” is not a how-to book on the subject of marriage.  Instead, it’s more like a “this is how marriage ought to be” book.  This makes the study more challenging as each couple has to communicate a great deal with one another to figure out how to best apply what they’re learning within their marriage.  In fact, one person who is currently leading a group of couples through this study recently told us, “I think this may be the best bible study our small group has ever done together.”  We’re convinced that it isn’t the quality of our study guide, but the fact that the reading/message/questions requires each couple to discuss certain aspects of their relationship in detail.  Most couples who are reading with us have agreed; this material requires communication, and that communication is reaping dividends in their marriage relationship.

With that said, lets move on to discuss chapter 2.

In the first chapter, the Keller’s provided a great deal of statistics for how our culture views marriage, as well as statistics for the benefits of marriage.  But stats aside, the Keller’s ended chapter 1 with a definition of the gospel:

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

This sets the tone for chapter 2, as the Keller’s begin with a great deal of attention on the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that helps both the husband and the wife serve their spouse.  Putting the interest of others ahead of our own is not a part of our human nature.  However, through the power of the Holy Spirit, both the husband and the wife can set aside their own self-interest for the interests of their spouse.

This leads to a lengthy section on the problem of self-centeredness.  How many of you would admit (to at least some degree) that you have selfish tendencies?  Of course you do.  We do, too.  Everybody does.  But what’s interesting here, at least to us, is that the Keller’s don’t just talk about selfishness, they talk about self-centeredness.  You may be wondering, “Is there really a difference?”

Well, if you look up each word in the dictionary, you may find similar definitions.  However, we believe the Keller’s wording here is quite purposeful.  Selfishness usually means that one wants to do whatever it is they want to do…but only for a season.  Somebody may be very service-oriented toward their spouse and family, but still have the occasional selfish tendencies.  When those tendencies arise, they think only about themselves.  They’re selfish, interested mainly in their own wants and desires.

Self-centeredness, on the other hand, goes one step further.  Being self-centered means that you’re the center of your own thoughts, world, and universe.  A self-centered person is rarely, if ever servant oriented.  Everything is “me focused”.  Not only that, but a self-centered person will offer excuses for their poor behavior.  A selfish person will confess they have occasional selfish desires, but a self-centered person won’t confess their flaws, instead they will only find some way to excuse their behavior.  See the difference?

Well, having clarity on the differences between the two makes this section of chapter 2 is quite uncomfortable to read.  Because there is a recognizable difference between a selfish person and a self-centered person, the reader is forced to wrestle through which category they may fall into.  The reader asks themself, “Am I sometimes a selfish person?  Or am I completely self-centered?”    The answer each person comes up with after reading through chapter 2 may be difficult to admit.  Of course it’s also quite possible that the reader recognizes there are some areas of their life where they may be self-centered, but not others.  If that is the case, they must still take the opportunity to wrestle through their self-centeredness and take the appropriate steps to change.

After wrestling through a long section on the subject of self-centeredness, the Keller’s once again discuss the beauty of the Christian faith.  Self-centeredness can be ridded in many ways, one of which is fearing God.  On this note, the Keller’s once again define an often misinterpreted phrase in order for the reader to fully grasp the point:

“Fear” in the Bible means to be overwhelmed, to be controlled by something. To fear the Lord is to be overwhelmed with wonder before the greatness of God and his love (p.59 kindle).

Ultimately, it is this fear of God that leads to understanding true love.  Chapter 2 concludes with the Keller’s noting that true, sacrificial love can only be offered when we fully comprehend the sacrificial love Jesus offered on our account. This section shows that our cultural understanding of love and the bible’s definition are very different.  When we take the opportunity to fear God in the way the Keller’s describe in the book, it is then that we ourselves are simply an overflow of God’s love that He has poured down upon us.  One cannot “love” others sacrificially, including their spouse, without accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  “We love— because he first loved us” (1 John 4: 19).


Timothy Keller writes, “Whether we are husband or wife, we are not to live for ourselves but for the other.  And that is the hardest yet single most important function of being a husband or a wife in marriage.”

Do you agree that this is the hardest and most important part of the marriage relationship?

How do you believe this is best lived out within a marriage?

What else did you like from Chapter 2?  Which discussion question(s) did you and your spouse discuss the most throughout the week?