Currently reading: The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller.
General impression: I love this book. Keller discussed marriage from the world’s perspective and common opinions on the institution then contrasted that with the Bible’s teaching on the topic. But he first opposed common critiques and perceptions of marriage with secular and extra-biblical data. I was struck by the claim that 61-62% of all struggling marriages that endure past 5 years are generally more happy than those who divorce (26). I am glad to have God’s Word (the Bible) as a guide in my marriage. The book motivated me to work hard on my marriage knowing it is a bigger and more significant task than winning an NBA championship or excelling in the eyes of people as a pastor.
Here are a few insights that struck me from chapter 1:
Marriage matures character. “Studies show that spouses hold one another to greater levels of personal responsibility and self-discipline than friends or other family members can” (24). He then gives the example of spending money unwisely. It reinforced my desire for some men I love to get married as an almost necessary means to maturity in some significant areas of life.
Marriage is good for society. “The overwhelming verdict, then, is that being married and growing up with parents who are married are enormous boosts to our well-being” (26). Earlier in this section he notes how divorce is grossly overrated in bringing happiness to those struggling in marriages.
Why are people today pessimistic about marriage? If the evidence all points to the fact that happiness is greater in marriages that endure than divorces and co-habitation, why are people so pessimistic about it? The answer is that people have misunderstood the mission of marriage. Keller writes quoting a legal scholar: “[the] ideal of marriage as a permanent contractual union designed for the sake of mutual love, procreation, and protection is slowly giving way to a new reality of marriage as a ‘terminal sexual contract’ designed for the gratification of the individual parties” (27). Marriage is now privatized for the happiness of each individual not necessarily found in the happiness of the other. Marriage has become an alliance for negotiating different desired outcomes of each individual, or as Keller writes, “the private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individuals” (29).
When people speak of compatibility they speak of (1) physical attractiveness and (2) sexual chemistry (30). Neither of these will help a marriage last. You get old and saggy. And no sexual chemistry is constantly the way Hollywood (and the porn industry) falsely portrays it.
Marriage makes REAL men. The culture celebrates men who are immature boys who have the need for sexual conquest, female adulation, and risky relationships. But marriage done well makes men truly masculine: “For most of Western history, the primary and most valued characteristic of manhood was self-mastery… A man who indulged in excessive eating, drinking, sleeping, or sex – who failed to ‘rule himself’ – was considered unfit to rule his household, much less a polity…” (32). I like that masculine-characteristic (which is really just a maturity characteristic): self-mastery. This is what Paul was getting at in Titus 2 where he tells men and women to help each other be “sensible” or “self-controlled.” Marriage helps with this.
The thirst for the ideal spouse or girl/boyfriend is killing us! This is hurting a lot of potential relationships. Seriously. Men and women break up in dating and stop marriages for the DUMBEST reasons. He laughs weird. She has man-hands. She’s 7 pounds too heavy. He’s a partner, but not of a big firm. She has dirty elbows (36-37). The prioritizing of trivialities in substitution for what is righteous and wise in choosing a spouse is delaying marriage, leaving a lot of godly and worthy singles unmarried, and weakening a lot marriages that actually happen.
You never marry the right person (37). Or to state it positively, “We always marry the wrong person” (38). True! Well, we marry sinners. We marry people we barely know and what we know changes when married. So stop looking for Mr. Right or Ms. The-One and marry a Christian who is a godly single and is not your sibling nor under 18.
Keller > Kobe. We are not compatible with our spouses because we are spiritually broken by sin and are self-centered. “‘Why should neurotic, selfish, immature people suddenly become angels when they fall in love…?’ That is why a good marriage is more painfully hard to achieve than athletic or artistic prowess” (40). Kobe has 5 NBA championship rings, at least one adultery, two kids, and one divorce after 10 and a half years of marriage. Keller has 3 kids, 1 church, 0 adulteries (that I’m aware of) and 0 divorces. Which is harder, 5 NBA championship rings or 37 years of marriage where it is now healthy and happy? Our culture celebrates Kobe and sports accolades. We should celebrate the endurance, tenacity, and dedication of two sinners staying together and growing together killing their self-centeredness in the process more than the extremely hard work to be a good professional athlete. As a Laker fan I don’t hesitate to say Kobe is a great winner, but in life he is a greater loser. If he was as obsessed with serving and leading his wife and family as he was with winning a 6th NBA championship he’d find a way to keep his pants on and his pride down. This shows that we all need God’s grace.
Marriages only truly work to the degree that it follows God’s pattern of self-giving. God patterned marriage after Jesus’ self-giving work on the cross. This is a key to making marriage truly work. Marriage is to be used as a strong tool for sanctification. But the gospel is also a tool for marital success. “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” (48). “This is the great secret! Through the gospel, we get both the power and the pattern for the journey of marriage” (49).