I am continuing to dig in to Timothy Keller’s book, “The Meaning of Marriage.” It is excellent, chock full of wisdom and encouragement. Last week I shared highlights from the first chapter. You can read those here. And let me urge you again to get your own full copy of the 300+ page book.
One of the most important (if not THE most important) chapters on marriage in the Bible is found in Ephesians 5. When examining Ephesians 5, Keller writes, “Immediately after discussing the Spirit-filled life, Paul turns to the subject of marriage, showing the tight connection between marriage and the life in the Spirit. And this connection teaches us two things. First, the picture of marriage given here is not of two needy people, unsure of their own value and purpose, finding their significance and meaning in one another’s arms. If you add two vacuums to each other, you only get a bigger and stronger vacuum… If we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility.” (pg 49-50)
In Ephesians 5, Paul charges both the husband and the wife with self-sacrificing responsibilities to serve their partner in marriage. Each of their responsibilities have unique struggles. The wife gives of herself in her submission, while the husband gives of himself in his love. But, both are servants, putting the other’s needs before his or her own.
And in this we see the gospel again lived out in our marriages. In essence, the gospel message is this: “You are so lost and flawed, so sinful, that Jesus had to die for you, but you are also so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for you.” (pg 54)
Please read that sentence again and let it really sink in. Let this truth impact your marriage, recognizing your own brokenness and need for help, forgiveness, love and grace. Let this truth both humble you and lift you up.
Humans “were created to worship and live for God’s glory, not our own. We were made to serve God and others. That means paradoxically that if we try to put our own happiness ahead of obedience to God, we violate our own nature and become, ultimately, miserable.” (pg 57-58) How true! And how often I see this played out in my own life. How about you?
The problem is that marriage is a union of two self-centered people. What ends up happening is that both people think the other person has the bigger problem. It is only when both spouses say, “I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,” that a couple can fully enjoy a great marriage. (pg 64)
So, what should you do if your spouse doesn’t recognize that his or her self-centeredness is a problem? Then, you have to work on you. You have to recognize your own sinfulness and selfishness and begin working on your own heart issues. And, once again, this is only fully possible through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you and by having a proper reverence for Christ. (Look again at Ephesians 5:18-21)
As Keller writes, “Only God can fill a God-sized hole. Until God has the proper place in my life, I will always be complaining that my spouse is not loving me well enough, not respecting me enough, not supporting me enough.” (pg 73)
Or in my life: When God fills my God-sized hole, Bill doesn’t have to. Ultimately, the solution to my marriage struggles isn’t found in getting Bill to fill the hole in my heart, but in getting my heart so filled with God, that HE fills the hole in my heart.
As Keller concludes,
“It is possible to feel you are “madly in love” with someone, when it is really just an attraction to someone who can meet your needs and address the insecurities and doubts you have about yourself. In that kind of relationship, you will demand and control rather than serve and give. The only way to avoid sacrificing your partner’s joy and freedom on the altar of your need is to turn to the ultimate lover of your soul.” (pg 77)
Let’s journey on this road together, seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, loving others because God first loved us.