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If you’re going to read just one book this year, read The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller.
The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God has impacted my life more than any other book outside of the Bible. When I first read it after my freshman year of college, God refreshed my heart with His gospel, restructured my understanding of marriage, and helped me realize I wanted to marry the man I was dating.
Oddly enough, I wasn’t married when I read this book. I wasn’t even engaged. I think this is what sets The Meaning of Marriage apart from other books about marriage. Its contents are genuinely useful for people in any relationship stage — single, dating, engaged, newlywed or married for years.
How Keller Captures “The Meaning of Marriage”
In Keller’s own words, the book’s “primary goal is to give both married and unmarried people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible.”
Using Ephesians 5:18-33 as a guide, Keller explains the profound connection between the gospel and marriage, as well as how God’s plan for marriage cuts across cultures and centuries. Drawing from his experiences as a husband and a pastor, he demonstrates that self-centeredness is the cause of most marital problems, and shows how Christ’s love humbles and empowers us to sacrifice our desires.
Keller’s keen cultural understanding is perhaps his greatest strength, which is evident in this book as much as his other works, like The Reason For God, The Prodigal God, and Prayer. He has a knack for recognizing why we think the things we do and reasoning us out of them, all while respectfully treating us as intelligent image-bearers who long for the truth.
How This Book Changed My Life
The Meaning of Marriage dispelled misconceptions I didn’t know I had. Growing up in the church and with parents who modeled marriage well, I knew “how” marriage was meant to work but I somehow missed the “why.”
Due to a misreading of 1 Corinthians 7, I was struggling with the fear that my desire for marriage was purely selfish. I started to think the only reason God created marriage was to help people who weren’t godly enough to contain their sexual desires.
God used Keller’s book to show me His purpose for marriage is far greater. To my surprise, I discovered that the sacrificial love between a husband and wife is one of the most divinely-orchestrated, daily-observed displays of Christ we have. And if selfishness was my concern — well, what better place to learn humility than living with another sinner?
Perhaps this message hit home because it came at a time when I desperately needed to experience the effects of the gospel. My boyfriend and I started reading this book together after we’d been dating for five months (all of them long-distance). I shattered seven months of trust when I began to flirt and fan feelings toward one of my co-workers. I knew this was wrong, and I hated myself for it.
When I finally confessed this sin to my boyfriend (something only God could have led me to do), I knew he had every right to break up with me. But he didn’t. His response was the most powerful, personal display of the gospel I’ve ever experienced: “This hurts so much and rebuilding from here will be so hard. But because I know God forgives you, I am going to forgive you, too, and I’m not giving up.”
By God’s grace, he was so right. Rebuilding was so hard — but it sanctified us so much. And it showed me the gospel doesn’t just change our salvation status. It changes everything, including our romantic relationships.
In the days after my confession, I picked up The Meaning of Marriage again. In Chapter 4, Keller argues that we should prioritize companionship before chemistry when seeking a spouse. While I was reading, I realized I couldn’t see myself ever having a better friend than my boyfriend. And in that moment, I knew I wanted to marry him.
Relevance to Long-Distance Couples
Long-distance dating couples need a Biblical framework for understanding marriage. The stakes of engagement are higher because eventually, one person must move for the marriage to work. If you don’t understand the purpose of marriage, you’ll struggle to make key decisions about the future.
I also think long-distance couples have a unique opportunity to begin to display the gospel symbolism outlined in this book. One of the key principles of marriage is Christ-like sacrifice: laying down your wants for someone else. You can do this only when your identity is not in your relationship or your achievements and when you have the Holy Spirit working inside you.
When long-distance couples make difficult sacrifices for one another, they unveil glimmers of the gospel to the world. This book will help you learn how you can start to show God’s glory through your relationship.
A warning, though: This book will make you excited to get married. Before reading, take an overview of your heart and your situation to see if absorbing a book about marriage might create a yearning you won’t be able to fill for a long time.
Where To Buy
You can buy The Meaning of Marriage on Amazon as a physical book, ebook or audiobook, or from other sellers.
Also, did you know? The audiobook version of The Meaning of Marriage is free on Amazon when you sign up for an Audible trial. You can cancel anytime before the 30-day trial ends to avoid charges, but you’ll still get to keep your free book!
Favorite Quotes From “The Meaning of Marriage”
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than ever dared hope.”
“Within this Christian vision of marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of what God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!”
“The gospel, brought home to your heart by the Spirit, can make you happy enough to be humble, giving you an internal fullness that frees you to be generous with the other even when you are not getting the satisfaction you want out of the relationship.”
“If it was not an assault on the dignity and divinity (but rather led to the greater glory) of the Second Person of the Godhead to submit himself, and assume the role of a servant, then how could it possibly injure me to be asked to play out the “Jesus role” in my marriage?” — Tim’s wife, Kathy. In Chapter 6, “Embracing the Other,” she offers a helpful discussion about gender roles in marriage.