It seems hard to believe that we’re already 3 weeks into our first ever ‘Read With Us’ campaign. At the same time, we’re glad to make it to week #3. Last week’s discussion on the subject of selfishness / self-centeredness was a very important one, but it’s not a chapter that most people look forward to reading over and over. In fact, one person in our own small group stated, “I think I’d rather hit myself in the head with a sledgehammer than read Chapter 2 again.” Translation – this person ‘got’ what the Keller’s were talking about, and it hit a little close to home. In fact, it hit close to home for everybody. Therefore, Chapter 2 is one where we must all remember to focus on what God is teaching us as individuals, not focus on what [we think] God is teaching our spouse.
Some additional comments we received from Week #2 had to do with the Keller’s comments on how people who have been wounded by others (whether physically, emotionally, etc.) are extremely self-centered. Those who have experienced deep wounds have a very difficult time playing well with others. When they do play well with others, it’s usually to make themselves ‘feel’ better about their own wounds, but they continue suffering from high levels of self-centeredness. If you missed this section in chapter 2 (and in Timothy Keller’s message we recommended purchasing), feel free to read through that section again. Take serious opportunity to evaluate your own self-centeredness and the impact it may be having on your marriage relationship.
With that said, let’s go ahead and move on to Chapter 3: The Essence of Marriage.
Here in Chapter 3, the Keller’s begin by discussing a mindset that is quite popular in our modern culture. This mindset goes something like this, “We don’t need to get married. I don’t need a piece of paper to love you.” Essentially, what this statement really means is, “I don’t love you enough to get married to you. I don’t love you enough to be fully committed.” Those who say statements such as these see love as a mere emotion. They feel loved. But they don’t want to completely give themselves over as a loving sacrifice for their partner.
An incorrect view of love may infiltrate a marriage as well. If just one person within a marriage has an incorrect view of love, it will impact all aspects of their relationship, including the sexual relationship. It means that sex is offered not as a way to serve your spouse, but only to please yourself. But if marriage is viewed as a covenant, you will use every aspect of marriage, including the sexual relationship, as a means to serve your spouse. (Much more about the marriage sexual relationship will be discussed in Week #8.)
With this in mind, the Keller’s state that, “…the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other.” This brings to light the idea of marriage as a covenant. A covenant, according to scripture, is different than a contract today in a number of ways.
1) A covenant is made before God AND your spouse.
A contract is a legally binding agreement made between 2 people. Contracts can be broken or changed. This is why the divorce rate happens to be so high in the United States (the Keller’s noted in chapter 1 that the divorce rate is near 45% in the U.S.). Many in our modern-day culture continue to view marriage as a contract, not a covenant. But the Keller’s point out that, “to break faith with your spouse is to break faith with God at the same time.”
You see, a covenant is a very big deal and if you study through all of the covenants God made in the Old Testament (Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, New Covenant, etc.) you’ll see a great significance of a covenant.
With this in mind, does the Bible say there is never a time when divorce is acceptable? No. The Bible does say that divorce is permissible if one commits adultery. There may be other severe cases of physical or emotional abuse where divorce may be permissible as well. Outside of this, divorce is only a result of what was discussed in great length in Chapter 2 – self-centeredness.
2) A covenant rids personal ‘freedom’ for the good of the marriage.
Earlier in the book, the Keller’s noted that a modern understanding of marriage includes a great deal of personal freedom. The mindset is usually a bargaining mindset of, “You let me do what I want to do and I’ll let you do what you want to do and we’ll be just fine.” It puts the individual as more important than the relationship.
But a biblical view of marriage shows that the relationship is a picture of the relationship Christ has with the church. Remember the covenants we mentioned above (Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, New Covenant, etc.)? Again, studying those out shows the significance of a covenant. And Paul explains in Ephesians 5:21-32 that a marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church. Jesus doesn’t divorce Himself from His church. He loves His people so much that he bled and died and for them. This is how a marriage is to operate, a deep love so intense that each individual will do whatever it takes to keep the marriage alive.
3) A covenant is not about love, but is instead about future love.
In a wedding ceremony, neither the bride or groom stands up to say, “I love you because…”. Instead, they’re standing up to make a promise. Good wedding vows state, “I promise to be loving…to be tender…in good times and bad…in sickness and health…until we die.” It’s a major, major commitment and a major, major promise. And again, the focus is on love as an action, not as something to be received from the other.
There are many other great section within Chapter 3, but we’d like to point out just one more. The Keller’s include a section about how actions of love lead to feelings of love. The premise of this section is that there will be times when you may not feel love toward your spouse. However, if you do the appropriate thing and act loving toward them, and continue to do so, it will lead to feelings of love.
An example provided goes something like this: Imagine you have a child who is not well-mannered, well-behaved, refuses to listen, and so on. Over the years you don’t give up on them. They may have deplorable behavior but you continue to be loving toward them. In essence, you view your relationship with that child as a covenantal one – you won’t give up on them no matter what. Well, by the time they get to be 16-18 years old, as you’ve worked and worked with that child through the years, you feel an immense amount of love toward that child. When they grow up and leave the house, you feel like a piece of you has moved away.
Sadly, this is why some marriages end AFTER the kids have grown up and left the house. So much time and energy has been spent focusing on the kids that the husband and wife forgot (or neglected) to focus on one another. They were living a covenantal relationship with their kids, but not with their spouse. Once the kids have grown up, they’re not sure what to do with or for one another. It seems that all of their life’s value and identity was wrapped up in their kids, and not in their marriage.
Some may wrestle through this idea of actions of love lead to feelings of love. This is understandable. Wrestle all you will, but actions of love are the benchmark of the marriage relationship. Actions of love is the essential characteristic of a healthy marriage. Actions of love is exactly what Jesus offered each one of us. On this note, the Keller’s end Chapter 3 by writing:
“…when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, ‘I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.’ No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us–denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him–and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.” Speak your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.” (p.99)
What did you find most interesting from Chapter 3? Which question(s) in the study guide did you enjoy the most and why?