I recently read a book entitled The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. When the book was recommended to me, I was hungry for some clarity on this great and seemingly complex subject.
I was just looking for some counsel on how to grow in godly manhood and leadership – how to have a godly perspective of relationships.
This book really delivered. I feel compelled to share some of the things I learned.
Keller didn’t just give surface advice and anecdotes of perfection that no could never achieve. It wasn’t just lofty theology of God’s design of marriage.
On the contrary, it was deep and nourishingly real material drawn from God’s Word about the reality of marriage.
The vision was cast in the book as biblical marriage being ultimately spiritual friendship: A beautiful journey of man and woman who are so flawed and dissimilar but share life together living in preparation of eternity.
They don’t do this for their own gain but because God has given them a vision of marriage, they love Jesus even more than they love one another. And they sacrifice themselves and their own desires so that the other can grow into a greater Christ-likeness.
Marriage should be this process of leading one another towards the day of perfection when each of us will be made completely new by God. Keller wrote about the sacrificial love of Ephesians 5:21-33.
The very first thing we are told “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” v. 21
This giving up of oneself so that your wife can become more like Jesus. Literally everything you want, let go of it for the sake of lifting up your spouse to Jesus.
Lack of Vision
Before reading this book, I didn’t quite grasp this vision for marriage. I sort of knew I should have a plan or an idea of what this is all about. Where would I start?
Sure, I had my natural visions, i.e., where to live, money and career. But those are always changing, and I was left more confused than ever.
First of all, I didn’t grasp the importance that I as a man, catch and live out God’s beautiful vision now – so that I can present and lead my future wife with that.
I have a great family who all model godly marriages. They are seriously the coolest and most loving couples. From my Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts, cousins, and my parents. They all give me examples of what to do right.
I’ve heard Ephesians 5 before and even seen it in action, but not until I myself sought after wisdom for marriage did I really get it.
I didn’t have this vision because I hadn’t taken leadership and surrendered my desires, nor had I dove into God’s Word looking for wisdom and sought out counsel from others.
For me, before I understood marriage clearly in the context of eternity, it was pretty easy to be self focused.
Why have I wanted to get married? To feel loved.
Why did I want to love? To feel loved.
Why did I want intimacy? To feel loved.
Understanding how God wants me to approach marriage revealed some serious selfishness in me.
Leading in Sacrifice and Forgiveness
Of course marriage includes receiving love and intimacy and companionship, but Keller showed how that’s secondary and just a benefit to marriage. It is really this place of sacrifice and selflessness and giving up oneself so that the other might become more like Jesus.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” – Ephesians 5:25-28
Sacrifice. Letting go of everything, just like Jesus did.
Keller pointed out the importance of each spouse leading in this sacrifice for each other, even when the other is unforgiving or selfish or unloving.
The forgiveness we are supposed to live out is to forgive like Jesus forgave us. It means forgiving even when the other is unrepentant.
Leading in forgiveness means I’m being obedient and becoming more like Christ and surrendering my hurt or anger. My wife, regardless of where she is at, gets to see Jesus in me. The Holy Spirit is free to then move and bring restoration.
Forgiveness begins with one. Jesus did it for you and me before we loved him. What right have I had to be stubborn and insist that there be repentance before I forgive?
Major humility bomb hit me with this. Sometimes I’ve thought I was forgiving when really I was just holding onto a grudge and pointing fingers. Thinking I was so awesome but really just being self-righteous and unforgiving.
Identity in Jesus
The book also helped reveal to me that my focus and identity will be confusing and crumbling if I place it A. in myself and B. in the woman that I love and marry.
Really simple stuff. It blows my mind. Why didn’t I see this earlier?
Marriage (and dating too) is looking at that guy or girl and seeing them for who they are. Not the person you think they are in that euphoric stage of being in love. (Let’s be honest, it is easy to be sort of blind in that time.)
To really see that person for who they are and realize: this girl or guy who I think is awesome is actually really flawed and sinful, just like me.
And to even go further and see that man or woman before God in eternity. Standing as God created them to be, completely perfect through Jesus.
From that perspective, marriage becomes a privilege where I get to love her towards that eternal hope.
As long as we both have that vision of where we are going and what this marriage thing is preparing us for, all of the flaws and quirks and even sins become really small.
Along with the beautiful purpose of marriage, the book brought out to me how crucial it is to have a heart of forgiveness and humility. This is not something I can do with my own strength.
It is sooo hard to forgive or love when you don’t want to – or when the other person isn’t repenting or loving.
All I can do is to surrender myself and ask for humility and just let Him work in me first. Then Jesus can work through me.
Loving Towards Eternity
Loving through the hard times becomes so much easier because I’m not loving her just for who she is today, but who she is and will be through Jesus.
Hebrews 10:14 says “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
We each are eternally perfect by what Jesus did for us – even as we are being made holy as we walk with Him daily.
Romans 5:8 says “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jesus saw us in our ugliness, yet He gave Himself up so that we could have new life and become perfect and beautiful. He loves us today, even despite our imperfections.
Ephesians 5 calls us to do that, to give ourselves up so that our spouse is made holy. That’s a crazy, sacrificial, and reciprocal love.
We love one another in the present because of what Jesus is doing in us and will complete in us in the future. For me, this makes me getting my way or physical beauty, or anything else temporal, seem pretty silly and insignificant.
One final point of conviction. When Jesus saw the Church, it was unattractive and sinful and rejecting of Him. Yet, Jesus chose me. He chose you. God gave the best He had for us. A people who are spiritually ugly without Him.
This completely changes what we value in our spouse. Attractiveness becomes so much less important.
As a guy, God made my brain to look for beauty, which is totally awesome. However, if I’m not renewing my mind in His Word, this can easily create temptations which can turn into sin. All around me the culture objectifies and uses this beauty to catch my attention. How easy it is to slowly let the world’s objectification and selfish way of thinking creep back into my mind.
We are called to something way better.
I was challenged that as believers we are called not evaluate based on temporal physical beauty – but to see that woman how God sees her, standing perfect in eternity, our sister in Christ. We are called to look for the spiritual beauty that only Jesus can bring.
Colossians 3 instructs us to love as Christ did and that means unselfishly honoring others with everything; our eyes and thoughts and hearts and bodies.
Having not experienced marriage yet, it probably is a lot more difficult than I can imagine. I don’t think I have it figured out. I’m just learning and being convicted about areas of my life where I haven’t had the mind of Christ.
This book gives an amazing picture of what God created marriage to be and provides wisdom.
God definitely used it to challenge and grow me spiritually as I understand this awesome mystery.