[From Noel] The Meaning of Marriage, written by Dr. Tim Keller and his wife Kathy is one of the richest and wisest books on sex, marriage, dating, and parenting that I have ever read. It is based on a series of sermons Keller preached at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan 20 years ago and is filled with practical advice as well as a rich study of the Bible and how it relates to marriage. Julie says that if you are only able to read one book on marriage this year, read this one. It’ll change your marriage.
Many people today have an incredibly unrealistic view of marriage. They either think of marriage as this perfect union of uninterrupted happiness and are sorely disappointed, or they think of marriage as drudgery and unconsciously make it so. Both takes are unrealistic; the truth is somewhere in the middle. As a result, many people aren’t making good decisions when they consider who would make a good marriage partner.
The entire book is based on Keller’s study of Eph 5:18-33. In these Bible verses the apostle Paul frames marriage as an expression of what Jesus accomplished in coming to Earth and dying for our sins. This is what makes this book so rich: it is completely soaked in the good news of Jesus.
Marriage doesn’t need a new definition, or a new commitment to following a new set of rules. For a marriage to be successful, two people need to understand what it is they are involved in. Successful marriages are made when two people resolve to love each other the way Jesus loves us. In loving their spouse well, they are trying to treat them the way God treats us.
Julie and I are going to both be talking about the things we have learned from this book (there are many) but here is just a list of highlights:
Chapter 1: The Secret of Marriage: Compatibility does not guarantee success (or happiness in marriage). What is the secret of Marriage? The gospel of Jesus Christ and marriage explain each other. Husbands and wives treat each other like Jesus treats us. Jesus willingly gave himself up for us. Jesus willingly submitted. When God invented Marriage he already had the saving work of Jesus in mind.
Chapter 2: The Power of Marriage: The power comes from two people willingly serving each other. “If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in this marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.”
Chapter 3: The Essence of Marriage: Contrary to what our consumer culture tells us, marriage is not a transaction, (a “terminal sexual contract”) but is rather a covenant: an unconditional promise.
Chapter 4: The Ministry of Marriage: In the same way that a church is a family. Each individual family operates as a church: it starts as two people who learn to minister to each other through love and then serve their children, and finally serve their community. Each married couple is a ministry centre in their neighbourhood: An advance camp of the Kingdom of God.
Chapter 5: Loving the Stranger: Friendship is essential to survival in marriage. Your spouse will change and so will you. It is vital to cultivate a friendship within your marriage that will survive the changes that will ultimately come in your relationship. A further highlight of the chapter are the stories that illustrate Keller’s point. Fantastic!
Chapter 6: The best biblical explanation of the idea of male “headship” I have ever read. “Both men and women get to play ‘the Jesus role’ in marriage – Jesus in his sacrificial authority, Jesus in his sacrificial submission.”
Chapter 7: Singleness and Marriage: How do you hold Marriage as desired outcome while still honouring other people’s decision to remain single. If you are 30+ and single you must read this chapter. It will change how you see marriage forever.
Chapter 8: Sex and Marriage: Keller’s shocking claim is that sex is not a private matter! It is an intensely public one. It is at the heart of a marriage relationship and therefore indirectly affects the whole community. Also the greatest pleasure of married sex is not found in receiving pleasure but in giving it.
Appendix: Decision Making and Gender Roles: These three pages radically changed the way I see male leadership in marriage. To fail to sacrificially, lovingly lead your family is to abdicate your role as a husband. There is much more to say there but it will have to wait for another blog.
Tim Keller has been interviewed on a number of network television stations. Each of these is worth the five minutes it takes to watch. The first is a pleasant discussion of the book and it’s topic. The second one is sparring session between Keller and a panel of skeptics on MSNBC news. It is fascinating to watch Keller evade their attempts at getting him off topic.