13 Realities of Married Sex: #9 Sex is Ecstasy

Years ago, Megan decided to surprise me by purchasing a ticket for us to ride a special bungee-swing-like ride in a major theme park.  The only problem is that I’m afraid of heights.  Though this event took place years ago, I remember it very clearly.  The slow ascent to the final destination (which was hundreds of feet off the ground!) was not a pleasant experience.  But once you’re there, there’s only one way to getKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA down.  The employee called out over a loudspeaker, “Are you ready?”  And then continued, “3-2-1 PULL!”.  Megan pulled the pin.  Over the next 1.37365 seconds, we were in a complete free-fall, and I’m pretty sure I was screaming like a little girl.  Then we felt the rope catch, and we swung back and forth until we descended to safety.  During this event, all 5 senses were fully engaged.  And in the end, I did laugh a bit about the experience.  But it wasn’t as enjoyable as Megan hoped.  It didn’t provide the moment of ecstasy she was going for.

Sex, on the other hand should be a thrilling, tantalizing and exciting experience. And while no marriage experiences those attributes every time they connect physically, it should not be a distant memory or completely foreign idea.  So what happens when sex is not ecstasy? When boredom, monotony and familiarity cloud that which you wish was more exciting and fun?

1. Build up the mind.

Great sex begins in the mind. If you have a ho-hum attitude towards sex, your bedroom activities won’t fail to reflect that attitude.  Fully understanding that where your mind goes, your body will follow is an important first step.  Use the power of your mind, your thoughts and your will to release your sexual confidence.  Make an effort to spend time thinking erotic thoughts about your spouse and anticipating how good sex could be. If you find yourself blaming your spouse for being a lousy lover, why don’t you try taking time to teach them to be a great lover.  Nobody knows everything about someone else’s body so take time to teach them about yours.  It is possible, but it all starts in the mind.  (If you are a wife with a low libido, check out Pearl’s OysterBed and join in her challenge to Unlock Your Libido.)

2. Build up the body.

If sex begins in the brain, then getting to know your own body is the next step to better sex.  Learning how your body responds to touch, taste, sight, smell and sound is a great starting point to understanding what turns you on. Marriage is the only place where sexual experimentation is encouraged and appropriate…so get to it!

3. Build up the heart.

Sex without connection can never be as good as sex with connection.  If sex is not producing much ecstasy then look to the relational aspects of your marriage and sexual relationship.  Is sex being withheld because of anger or unforgiveness? Is there bitterness or resentment building up as a result of self-centered living? Are there underlying problems in how you value sex?

Another approach may just be to work on your friendship. Sex or friendship, friendship or sex, which comes first? Truth is, neither one is as good without the other. Working on your friendship may well be a key to unlocking more passionate sex.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Discuss with your spouse:

1. Is there anything I can do this week to help you think sexual thoughts about me throughout the day?

2. Challenge: Do something special with all 5 senses the next time you connect.  Don’t tell your spouse what you’re going to do (surely you can think of something sexually arousing to surprise him/her in 5 ways) but let him/her choose the order of the senses.  Then mix-and-match those 5 things the next time you connect.  Chances are, you’ll discover a new, fun, way to pleasure your spouse!

Read With Us: The Meaning of Marriage – Week #8

This is both a moment of great joy, as well as a little bit of sorrow.  We are now in our final post in our first ever “Read With Us” campaign.  For those of you who have read the book along with us, we hope you’ve enjoyed reading through “The Meaning of Marriage”.  For those who have only read through our brief summary of each chapter over the past 8 weeks, we hope you’ll one day take the opportunity to read the book AND go through the participant’s guide we’ve included here on the blog.

It should come as no surprise that the Keller’s saved this chapter for last: Sex and Marriage.  While Megan and I enjoy writing about these subjects on a regular basis, here is a brief summary from this chapter of the book.

Similar to Mark Driscoll’s message, “Sex: God, Gross or Gift” (which is included as a part of our study guide materials), the Keller’s begin this chapter by focusing on 3 myths about sex.  These include:

1) Myth #1: Sex is Just an Appetite

Our culture subconsciously sends the message that sex is “primarily for an individual’s fulfillment and self-realization, however he or she wishes to pursue it.”  But sex is much more than a physical appetite.  “Sex affects of heart, our inward being, not just our body.”

Being that sex affects every aspect of an individual, Tim Keller notes here that the Christian standard for sex is between one man and one woman.  Strangely, the Keller’s chose not to get into the subject of homosexuality too much throughout the book.  Outside of a couple of brief references to “one man and one woman” and some comments in the footnotes, the subject isn’t mentioned.  To their credit, we believe this is because they wanted to focus only on what Christian marriage IS and not on what it is not.  And even though this subject is not mentioned in extreme detail, it is obvious to the reader that the Keller’s understanding of marriage/sex according to God’s Word is that it is only between a man and woman, and is much more than physical in nature.

2) Myth #2: Sex is Dirty

I remember having a number of high-school friends refer to sex as “doing the nasty”.  It’s amazing how many people in our culture refer to sex as nasty or gross.  Sure, it can be messy, but messy isn’t anything like being disgusting.  On this point, the Keller’s note that the Bible not only allows sex within marriage, but also commands it (1 Cor. 7:3-5).  It is something to be delighted in (Prov. 5:19), not something to be ashamed of in any way.

3) Myth #3: Sex is Strictly a Private Matter

Sex isn’t only about one individual being pleased. It’s about 2 people, before God, uniting as one-flesh.  This shows that sex isn’t private, or an individualistic event, but is instead something to remind each person in the marriage of the covenant they made to each other and God.  It’s a reminder of their promise to one another.  A reminder that each person lovingly accepts the other, and their junk.  It’s a way for each person in the marriage to avail every aspect of who they are, and still experience love and acceptance from another person.

This is one of the reasons why marriage is compared to Christ’s relationship with the Church, as well as one of the reasons why Christianity stands above all other possibilities for religion.  In Christianity, an individual cannot fully receive God’s love if they’re wearing a mask, or if they’re trying to earn his love.  They receive God’s love only when they put all their junk out in the open and allow God to love them in spite of it.  It is here in this grace that they are now able to love others in the same way.

Marriage is a picture of just that.  We can look at our spouse, know their flaws, their inconsistencies, and even their sin, and we can choose to love and accept them anyway.  And not only love them, but be completely united with them.  To experience them.  This is what makes sex so much more than physical.  It’s emotional, spiritual, full-on, vulnerable, naked, acceptance of one another.

Due to this, God gives some pretty specific guidelines for sex in marriage.  Not, “You can’t do ______________” kind of guidelines.  But instead, guidelines that say, “Have it, enjoy it, and even use it as a way to please your spouse and not yourself.”  For example, 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (HCSB) says:

A husband should fulfill his marital responsibility  to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband. A wife does not have the right over her own body, but her husband does. In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body, but his wife does. Do not deprive  one another sexually—except when you agree for a time, to devote yourselves to  prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Regarding this passage, the Keller’s are sure to note the revolutionary statement made in this passage.  This was written at a time when wives were basically considered property of their husbands.  But Paul wrote that a husband’s body also belongs to his wife.  Translation: If she wants sex, you should make yourself available for to her.

Many men are just fine with this, but we should let you know that we’ve had a few men ask us if it’s ever OK for them to say no to their wife.  While illness and other factors may creep in from time to time, the scriptures are pretty clear that a couple should work together, making themselves available to their spouse.  Again, this isn’t because sex is all about physical pleasure, but because it’s a picture of what your marriage relationship really is – a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church.  Who doesn’t want that reminder on a regular basis?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

1. How important do you believe the sexual relationship is in marriage?

2. Read 1 Corinthians 7:3-5; Proverbs 5:19, and Deuteronomy 24:5.  What, if anything, surprises you about what is written in these passages?

On Your Own:

Men and women are naturally inclined to use the 5 senses (sight, taste, touch, sound, and hearing) differently in the bedroom.  Which senses do you think men prefer more?  Which senses do you think women prefer more?

Take the opportunity to read the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon) this week.  Pay specific attention to how the 5 senses are used in the couple’s sexual (and nonsexual) relationship.  Then discuss the following questions together.

  1. Which of the 5 senses are you more drawn to during sex?
  2. Are there any ways we can better incorporate the 5 senses in order to better improve our current sexual lifestyle?
  3. How can I better serve you in this area of our marriage?

Some things to look for in Song of Songs may include:

Hearing – 2:12, 4:1-15, 6:4-10

Sight – 4:1-15, 6:4-10, 8:10

Touch – 7:8-9

Smell – 4:16, 7:13

Taste – 2:3, 5:1

Read With Us: The Meaning of Marriage – Week #7

If any chapter in “The Meaning of Marriage” seems oddly placed in the book, it’s Chapter 7: Singleness and Marriage.  After 6 chapters of information on marriage as friendship, marriage as the gospel, marriage as – you name it – the next to last chapter in the book is about being single.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s great information.  While we were not able to cover it in our own small group study, it really does contain insights that will benefit both the single person as well as couples who wish to encourage those who are single.

The Keller’s begin by noting that when they began Redeemer Church, they discovered that 80% of their congregation was single.  80%.  Even with that ratio, Tim Keller decided to teach a 9-week series on the subject of marriage.  He did so because he believed singles, too, need a “balanced, informed view of marriage.”  This message series was so successful that is continues to be the top selling sermon-series Redeemer has available on their website.  That series was also the foundation for this book, “The Meaning of Marriage”.

One of the passages Tim Keller focuses on is 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (HCSB)

And I say this, brothers: The time is limited,  so from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice  as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it. For this world in its current form is passing away.

Tim Keller notes several things about this passage, but summarizes by stating:

“We should be neither over elated by getting married nor overly
disappointed by not being 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.” (p.185 kindle)

Think about that for a second.  How many people have you known in your lifetime who thought that they’ll be happier once they’re married?  But once they’re married, they discover that’s not true.  So they then decide they’ll be happier once they have children.  (Yeah, like that’s going to happen.)  And, of course they soon realize that their first child doesn’t make them happy either.  Well maybe they’ll be happy when that child is no longer an infant?  Or perhaps they’ll be happy when they find some friends who are of the same life-phase?  Or perhaps when…

The list goes on and on, but that happiness never truly comes.  They’re stuck in the cycle of believing that what they possess or do will make them happy.  This cycle likely began well before marriage.  But after marriage, they’ve now brought other human being into their own perpetual cycle of discontentment!

In an attempt to try to stop single people from entering (or continuing) in this cycle, Tim Keller writes about the goodness of singleness.  He’s sure to note two notable single people – Jesus and the Apostle Paul – both whom lived a life dedicated to God’s calling their lives and who weren’t looking for something else to make them happy.  Their relationship with God was all they really needed.

Not only can a single person keep more attention on their relationship with God, but they also have an opportunity to have MORE relationships with people of each sex than those who are married.

“Marriage does and should somewhat limit the extent of friendships you have with others of the opposite sex. In Christian community, however, singles can have a greater range of friendships among both sexes.” (p.192 kindle)

With all of this said, however, Tim Keller still notes that it’s OK, perhaps even good, to seek marriage.  A single person still runs the risk of buying into our culture that is shaped by individualism (p.192).  Therefore, it is important for one who is single to seek marriage, not as an idol in their life, but as an avenue to pursue deep friendship, oneness, and holiness with a member of the opposite sex.

Some brief advice for those who are single, and how they may seek marriage:

1) Only date individuals you could see yourself being married to one day.

Far too often, people look for a dating partner who is attractive first, and has the possibility of being a good friend second.  This should happen in the reverse order.  Good marriages are based off of good friendship.  If you begin dating and quickly discover that your friendship is going nowhere, but your physical relationship is going everywhere, get out.

2) Assuming you’re a Christian, only date other Christians.

Is it possible for two individuals of opposite faiths to have a successful marriage?  Yes.  In fact, we know a number of couples who are happily married to somebody of an opposite (or no) faith.  However, while there are a handful of success stories, the number of negative examples far outweighs them.  Some statistics indicate that the divorce rate is much higher for couples of opposite faiths.  One other individual we know (who is a Christian married to a non-Christian for over 20 years), would readily admit that their marriage has been extremely challenging.

When you date somebody of the same Christian faith, you’re going to be on the same page regarding where God is taking your relationship.  You’re not going to have different ideas.  God will use each one of you to help you grow in holiness.  Knowing that will make your dating relationship, and your possible future marriage relationship, a prime example of biblical marriage.

3) Get input from others, especially those who have extensive marriage experience.

Have a grandparent who’s been married a long time?  Ask them what has made their marriage successful, and then think through whether your current relationship contains those qualities.  While pre-marriage counseling is certainly helpful, it may also be beneficial to ask for pre-pre-marriage counseling.  Just having a 3rd person sitting in the room to discuss ideas, ensuring your motives are pure, and making recommendations as to how your friendship can go to the next level can help ensure your dating relationship is on the right path.

In summary, being single isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and should even be encouraged in some situations.  At the same time, singles should not idolize marriage, nor should they fear it.  Instead, singles should look to God as their primary relationship, and marriage can be viewed as something that will enhance their relationship with God.  The grass may actually be greener on the other side, but only when a godly understand of marriage is in view, and God will be the centerpiece of the relationship.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

1. The Keller’s list 4 ways Christian churches often try to “explain” singleness.  (p.188 kindle, or 196 hard copy).  Which of these reasons have you heard the most?

2. Have you given up any friendships for the sake of your marriage?  How easy or difficult was this for you to do?

3. What are some dangers of a dating relationship becoming too passionate early on?

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)

Commitment of Marriage

In our culture, it is not uncommon for people to scoff at the idea of marriage or think negatively about it.  Many assume that marriage itself is unnecessary, constraining, archaic, and worthless.  Due to these assumptions, it seems that as time goes on, more and more people are vehemently opposed to the idea of marriage.  Even with the prevalence of such negative views on marriage, people still get married. They do so because there is still an idea out there that remains unforgotten from generations past.  This is the idea that marriage is good and helpful.  Even today, this idea motivates people to seek and find a mate.  The importance, however, is not about how you come to be in a marriage relationship, it’s about how you stay in one.

We believe marriage to be the single most important and deepest relationship one can have with another person.  And when both parties understand specific elements of the marriage relationship, the marriage has a much greater propensity to survive.  Three simple elements that stand out about marriage include:

First, the permanence of the commitment. Marriage is meant to be permanent.  Forever.  There is no easy way out.  Even with divorce rates being as high as they are, divorce is not an easy way out.  Marriage is a relationship that supersedes all others in that it is supposed to go with you, through every life change you encounter.  While other friendships wax and wane, the marriage relationship is meant to be steadfast and enduring.

Secondly, the exclusivity of the relationship. No other person has the same access or investment in your life as your spouse.  The vows you took before God and others are a testimony to everyone that you are choosing to forsake all others.  There is an exclusivity that marriage provides in being known and knowing another person.  No one has as much knowledge of another person or sees as much vulnerability as will be made known in a marriage.  Hiding from your own flaws, vulnerabilities, etc. can and will prevent your marriage from being the deepest relationship possible.

Thirdly, the promise of the vows. Marriage is essentially a promise to love your spouse, even when it’s not easy or you don’t feel like it.  It’s a promise to stay committed even when you see the worst in your spouse.  A promise to sacrifice for the good of another, everyday, for as long as you both shall live.  This promise you have made is what has the power to carry you through the ups and downs of life, love and marriage.

So, even though your marriage will have it’s ups and downs, remember that marriage is permanent, your relationship is exclusive, and you have made a promise.  These three combined create a relationship that truly is the deepest relationship you can have with another human being.  If you’re feeling like you don’t have this deep-quality relationship with your spouse right now, ask yourself just a few short questions:

1) Do we both see our relationship as permanent?  Not a bargaining, “You do what you want to do and I’ll do what I want to do,” kind of relationship…but a real genuine permanent connection?

2) Do we see our relationship as exclusive?  Can your spouse give a look, wink, or other non-verbal cue that you and only you can understand?

3) Do we see our marriage as a promise?  Do we truly put our marriage above our own personal interests, and do so for better or worse, in sickness and in health, when we have money and when we don’t?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

What elements do you believe are essential for the commitment of marriage?

Linking with: Women Living Well, To Love Honor and Vacuum

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?

Read With Us: The Meaning of Marriage – Week #1

Greetings All!

This is part one in our eight week series in reading through Timothy and Kathy Keller’s Book, “The Meaning of Marriage”.  Some of you may be going through this study on your own with your spouse, and others may be joining in with a small group of their own.  However you may going through the material, it’s our hope that you find the material very meaningful within your marriage relationship.  (If you’re reading this and you have no idea what we’re talking about, read this post.  Perhaps you’ll decide to join us and read along!)

At this time, you should have completed the reading of Chapter 1, “The Secret of Marriage”, listened to Mark Driscoll’s message titled, “Taking Out The Trash” and completed questions for Week #1 from the Participant’s Guide.  Remember, if you haven’t yet looked at the Participant’s Guide or listened to the audio message, those are available for free right here.

With that brief introduction out of way, here are some of our thoughts from the Introduction and Chapter 1: The Secret of Marriage.

The Keller’s note very early on that this book is rooted heavily in scripture, specifically in Ephesians 5:21-33.  It is here that marriage is seen as a picture of Christ’s relationship with His church, and how this is “a profound mystery”.  Surely, everyone who has been married for any length of time realizes how mysterious this truly is.

To set the tone for the book, the Keller’s provide a great deal of statistics for how our culture currently views marriage.  Sadly, what these statistics offer is that most people have a very negative view of marriage.  People note that “compatibility” in a relationship means “finding someone who doesn’t try to change me.”   Yet, despite this negative view of marriage, there is a great deal of data showing that those who are married live more satisfying lives than those who aren’t.

Chapter 1 also emphasizes the impact of the Enlightenment on the institute of marriage.  The Keller’s note that it was only after the Enlightenment that marriage was seen as a way for one to fulfill their personal desires, whereas before the Enlightenment, people viewed marriage as a way to give themselves to something greater than themselves.  It may be counter-cultural today, but once upon a time an individual gave up his/her own desires for the best of their marriage and family.  To make their point, the Keller’s quote a NY Times Article which we’ll quote here as well:

“The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first?

Not anymore. For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself. But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting…[who] help each of them attain valued goals.”

Outside of these marriage statistics, a case is made that a “soul mate” does not and cannot exist.  This part of the book has been adapted to an article published in RELEVANT magazine as well, and a great deal of discussion is sure to happen between you and your spouse and perhaps your small group on this subject.

It is only toward the end of Chapter 1 that a biblical case for the marriage relationship begins to take shape.  The Keller’s show that the problem isn’t that marriage has a bad reputation in our culture; instead, the problem is a spiritual one.  This is the heart of Christianity – outside of the faith,  one wants to fulfill their own desires and only their own desires.  But within the Christian faith, the marriage relationship shows that mutual fulfillment is made through mutual sacrifice (p.39).

To get the heart of the issue, the Keller’s conclude chapter one ensuring that the reader understands the heart 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 (p.40).”  Understanding this message is absolutely crucial to understanding marriage, as the marriage relationship truly is a picture of the same relationship Jesus desires to have with each of us.

With all of that said, what did you enjoy most from Chapter 1?  What did you enjoy the least?

A few people we’ve interacted with have mentioned that they weren’t disappointed, but surprised by the book.  As with most marriage books, they were looking for it to be a “how to” book on the subject of marriage.  But “The Meaning of Marriage” is not a “how to” book.  Not in the least.  Perhaps the best way to describe it is as a “This is how marriage ought to be” book.

Therefore, as you continue reading, you’ll discover that the Keller’s main goal is to simply offer a philosophy/theology on the marriage relationship.  And each couple will think differently about how those principles “ought to be” applied in their marriage.  So, if Chapter 1 surprised you, keep reading.  As you and your spouse dive deeper into the book you’ll discover that having conversations about how your marriage “ought to be” are well worth it for the longevity of your relationship.

We’ll dive into Chapter 2 next week, but until then…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

What did you enjoy most from Chapter 1?

What did you enjoy the least?

Which of the discussion questions did you find most challenging?  Most helpful?