The Meaning of Marriage

My Life Group recently went through Tim Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage. The subtitle— “Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God” —really does sum it up well. Keller takes a look at the foundation of marriage and debunks much of the romantic and faulty ideas that our culture has readily adopted. At first, some of his ideas seem almost unromantic due to their focus on commitment. Yet it is this focus that makes this book so counter-intuitive and profound.

Here are some of my favorite passages that illustrate this:

The gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should. That frees us to see our spouse’s sins and flaws to the bottom—and speak of them—and yet still love and accept our spouse fully. And when, by the power of the gospel, our spouse experiences that same kind of truthful yet committed love, it enables our spouses to show us that same kind of transforming love when the time comes for it.

If two spouses each say, “I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,” you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.

On the cross, Jesus did not look down on us with a heart full of admiration and affection. He felt no “chemistry.” But he gave himself. He put our needs ahead of his own; he sacrificed for us. But the Bible tells spouses not only to imitate the quality and manner of Christ’s love but also the goal of it. Jesus died not because we were lovely, but to make us lovely. He died, Paul says, to “make us holy.” Paradoxically, this means Paul is urging spouses to help their mates love Jesus more than them. It’s a paradox but not a contradiction.

Marriage brings out the worst in you. It doesn’t create your weaknesses (though you may blame your spouse for your blow-ups)—it reveals them. This is not a bad thing, though. How can you change into your “glory-self” if you assume that you’re already pretty close to perfect as it is?

Marriage does not so much bring you into confrontation with your spouse as confront you with yourself. Marriage shows you a realistic, unflattering picture of who you are and then takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to pay attention to it.

Truth without love ruins the oneness, and love without truth gives the illusion of unity but actually stops the journey and the growth. The solution is grace. The experience of Jesus’s grace makes it possible to practice the two most important skills in marriage: forgiveness and repentance.

And there’s the Great Problem of marriage. The one person in the whole world who holds your heart in her hand, whose approval and affirmation you most long for and need, is the one who is hurt more deeply by your sins than anyone else on the planet.

In addition, I came across a passage that I absolutely love and has now made it into my talk that I give whenever I perform a wedding for a couple.

Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now—that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances.

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan husband, father, executive pastor, and student of truth

2 Comments

Jeri Lange

about 2 years ago

I love that last paragraph. Maybe there would be fewer divorces if more couples took that to heart.

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jeremy

about 2 years ago

I totally agree!

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