My reading for the past week or so has been The Meaning of Marriage, by Tim and Kathy Keller. The authors are a couple who can boast a successful 36-year marriage. Tim is a pastor in New York City. The book is what the title suggests, and examination of what marriage truly should be and how a biblical perspective differs from the modern world’s understanding of marriage. The book is a perfect introduction for a recently engaged man like myself.
The authors structure the book around the passage that Saint Paul wrote in Ephesians concerning marriage:
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. [Eph 5:22:31; NIV]
As they point out, this view of marriage divides us sharply from both ancient and modern understandings. In ancient times, marriage was for social and economic gains and alliances. Families decided marriages for young people, and what each partner brought to the marriage was determined by their family situation. In modern times, marriage has flipped to the opposite extreme and become based on selfishness, with numerous advisors tellings us that our marriage partner should “complete” ourselves, “fulfill” ourselves, and otherwise serve goals that are all about us.
By contrast, Paul tells that a Christian marriage is modeled on the relationship of Christ and the Church. Christ did not seek to complete himself nor serve any other selfish goal when he sought out the Church. Instead his goal was to lift up the Church and make her holy and perfect. In a similar way, none of us should look at a potential marriage partner and ask how she will serve our temporary needs. Instead, we should each see a partner as a person who is on journey to the mountaintop where Christ will make us perfect. We should enter marriage because we can see glimpses of where the partner is going, and we are uplifted and excited by the person that the partner will become with Christ’s help. We marry because we want to take that journey together, each partner helping the other when necessary, and each growing more joyful as the other progresses.
Within that framework, The Meaning of Marriage has lots of practical advice, and it’s a worthy addition to any bookshelf, whether for the unmarried, the recently married, or those past their silver anniversary.