Lots of books are available on marriage. Some of them are pretty good, some are okay, and some are way off base. Our book of the month for February is just the kind of book that we need to be reading. It’s way beyond “pretty good.” The Meaning of Marriage, written by Tim Keller, along with his wife, Kathy, will help you figure out what marriage is supposed to be according to God’s Word.
The authors arrive at their meaning of marriage by explaining what Paul is teaching in Ephesians 5, the most extensive passage in scripture to show us God’s plan for our marriage. And because they use that passage, the meaning of marriage is clearly going to be centered in the gospel. The fact that the book is centered on the gospel surely makes it valuable. But beyond that, the Kellers have been married for nearly forty years and can therefore offer biblical counsel that they have learned and applied.
In chapter 1 they offer “two of the most basic biblical teachings by the Bible on marriage-that it has been instituted by God and that marriage was designed to be a reflection of the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ. The gospel! In chapter 2 they show how the work of the Holy Spirit is fundamental to battling the main enemy of marriage: sinful self-centeredness. Chapter 3 is about love, looking at how the feeling of love is related to actions of love.
Chapter 4, “The Mission of Marriage,” turns to the purpose of marriage and offers a long discussion of spiritual friendship. This is a highlight of the book: Keller asks: “What, then is marriage for? It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.” In this spiritual friendship, husband and wife are helping one another know, serve, love, and resemble God in deeper and deeper ways.
Chapter 5 then teaches three basic tools on how this spiritual friendship can be developed: the power of truth, the power of love, and the power of grace. These tools are explained (again in context of the gospel), and it’s shown how they are applied in the marriage relationship. Using these three tools together will help develop your spiritual friendship.
Kathy Keller does the writing in chapter 6, and she does an excellent job of explaining what the Bible means by “headship” of the husband and “submission” of the wife. She has two better terms that provide a more biblical emphasis. The husband is the “servant-head” and the wife is the “strong helper”. She provides both biblical support in her explanation as well as giving some great examples of how this all works in a marriage.
Keller’s ministry in New York City has a majority of its members who are single. In chapter 7 he talks about singleness and marriage. Here he explains that the gospel again enters into play. It is our relationship to Christ and the Church which is important. To make marriage a goal because of the demands of society and culture is to also make it an idol. Singles must find their hope in Christ.
The final chapter deals with the topic of sex, with information that is valuable for putting sex into its proper context in the relationship. They explain that God restricts sexual activity to the marriage relationship, but then they also give practical advice on living in accordance to God’s Word, both as single persons and married couples.
This book requires slow and careful processing. It is not a quick read. You also may not find it an easy read. But it is a must read! If you are married (no matter how long!), this book needs to be read and discussed with your spouse. If you are planning to be married, you need to read this book so that you know where you are headed and what you need to do to get there. You will be amply rewarded!