Let’s begin with a question: What is the element or dimension or ingredient that makes marriage work? Some marriages sustain themselves a long while, some of them through the whole of a couple’s life, but barely make it. They are a kind of maintenance marriage. But other marriages flourish, and the question for today — before you read any further give this one some thought and jot down mentally the one or two words that turn marriage from maintenance into flourishing. What is it that makes marriages optimal? What are the elements of your marriage that have made it better?
When I saw the title of the second chp in Tim and Kathy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage, that was the sort of question that came to my mind. His chp is called “The power of marriage,” and I wondered what that “power” might be for him. What is that power in your mind?
Some may think the Kellers’ “power” is too predictable or trite or not concrete enough, so I will give it now and then we can discuss it as the post unrolls: the power of marriage is “begin filled with the Spirit.” They root this observation in Ephesians 5 and the flow of Paul’s thought: before getting to that famous bugbear word, “submit,” Paul speaks of the necessity of being filled with the Spirit: and no “submission” happens aright if it is not Spirit-induced and Spirit-shaped.
The Spirit’s “job description” is to “unfold the meaning of Jesus’s person and work to believers in such a way that the glory of it — its infinite importance and beauty — is brought home to the mind and heart” (51). Spirit-shaped marriages then become gospel/Jesus shaped marriages. This means we learn to live for the other; too many see marriage as one person (the wife) living for the other (the husband); some see it the other way, too; but the Spirit-shaped marriage leads to mutual sacrifice for the good of the other.
Keller (and when I say “Keller” it means both of them) says there are three options:
1. You can offer to serve the other with joy
2. You can make the offer with coldness or resentment
3. You can selfishly insist on your own way.
One problem faces all marriages: pride or self-centeredness. It is the “ever-present enemy of every marriage” (56).
The Spirit enters to increase the supply side of “love economics”: the Spirit empowers us to love when we are struggling to love because the Spirit transforms us into Christlikeness. “The deep happiness that marriage can bring, then, lies on the far side of sacrificial service in the power of the Spirit” (58). And this mimics God the Trinity, in whom there is eternal and ongoing other-orientation of love and embrace.
Another problem in marriages: woundedness. Keller knows the wounds and he is sensitive to the wounds, but he urges us to not let the wounds exacerbate our self-centered pride so that the wound becomes the opportunity to increase self-pity.
This means that the power of marriage, the Spirit’s presence in us, challenges two sorts of marriage theories:
First, it challenges the conservative approach to marriage (their words) “that puts a great deal of stress on traditional gender roles” (66). The big idea is each person submitting to divine roles and it leads to differentiation discussions — what makes a woman a woman, what makes a man a man — and this is an “overemphasis” and it can “encourage selfishness, especially on the part of the husband” (66).
Second, it challenges the “more secular approach,” that “you have to get your spouse to recognize your potential and help you to develop it” (66). That is, self-realization is your and your spouse’s goal. This approach develops selfishness.
So the Christian approach, Keller contends, is “Spirit-generated selflessness — not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself but thinking of yourself less” (66).
Spirit-induced relationships dwell in light of the fear of Christ: that awe and wonder of who Christ is and what Christ has done.