The Meaning of Marriage

This book is an informative, gospel-based discussion of marriage based on a sermon series Keller gave in 1991. Rooted in equal parts theology, pastoral experience, and lives lived as husband and wife, the Kellers address topics ranging from the vision of a Christian marriage to spouses' individual relationships with Jesus to singleness to sex and beyond. Their clarity and simple speech make accessible the depth of their study and wisdom, while their anecdotes offer the humor and practicality necessary to understand these truths against the backdrops of our own interactions with married life. The main text is well attended by footnotes, which often point to helpful resources and candid insights. But underlying every discussion is the constant call back to the very nature of God, and that focus allows anyone — teens, singles, marrieds, widows, or divorcees — to learn something from this book.

I came to this book during a time of pre-engagement, searching for answers I didn’t have questions for, laden with a sense of how much I didn’t know but needed to know before diving into a lifetime of relationship. The Kellers' focus on the gospel, though elementary, provided the logical, relational, and structural basis I could plant myself on while seeking answers in the rest of their writings. While “Some Practical Counsel for Marriage Seekers” (p. 237–249) offers a comprehensive list of things to think about when one finds themselves in the stage I’m in, I found myself gravitating more towards the theoretical, conceptual constructs around marriage: the commitments to sacrificial love with justifications fleshed out beyond “because Jesus sacrificed”; a discussion of gender differences while using scalpel-like precision to cut away the cultural baggage in tow; and a beautiful image of striving towards our true selves as an answer to the day-to-day frustrations encountered in living so intimately with another messy, broken human.

The most radical idea for me is a consequence of eternal commitment: in marriage, the frustrations and shortcomings of ourselves and our partners are entirely effects of sin which obscure the true nature of a person, but it is that true version which we bond ourselves to in marriage. Some scattered quotations on the matter:

Within this Christian vision for marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person 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!'” Each spouse should see the great thing that Jesus is doing in the life of their mate through the Word, the gospel.

The Meaning of Marriage, page 132.

If you don’t see your mate’s deep flaws and weaknesses and dependencies, you’re not even in the game. But if you don’t get excited about the person your spouse has already grown into and will become, you aren’t tapping into the power of marriage as spiritual friendship. The goal is to see something absolutely ravishing that God is making of the beloved. You see even now flashes of glory. You want to help your spouse become the person God wants him or her to be.

The Meaning of Marriage, page 134.

…What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness. You’re committed to his or her beauty. You’re committed to his greatness and perfection. You’re committed to her honesty and passion for the things of God. That’s your job as a spouse. Any lesser goal than that, any smaller purpose, and you’re just playing at being married.

The Meaning of Marriage, page 135.

While I’m not entirely in agreement with the handling of gender norms in this book (though they are still more progressive than one might expect), many other ideas were very helpful. I could see myself coming back to these ideas time and time again to get a healthy dose of perspective in the midst of my laughable, honest, heart-wrenching attempts at knowing and being known, loving and being loved. But for now, this has given me a little more confidence to take the first step.

Many people have asked me “How can you tell whether you’ve got a friendship on which you can base a marriage?” The answer that Kathy and I have always given is this. When you see the problems in each other, do you just want to run away, or do you find a desire to work on them together? If the second impulse is yours, then you have the makings of a marriage. Do you obsess over your partner’s external shortcomings, or can you see the beauty within, and do you want to see it increasingly released? Then move forward. The power of truth that marriage has should hold no fear for you.

The Meaning of Marriage, page 159.



Book (Nonfiction)
Release Date
November 1, 2011
Joshua J. Daymude
Joshua J. Daymude
Assistant Professor, Computer Science

I am a Christian and assistant professor in computer science studying collective emergent behavior and programmable matter through the lens of distributed computing, stochastic processes, and bio-inspired algorithms. I also love gaming and playing music.