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Focus on the Family Broadcast

God’s Blueprint for a Healthy Marriage (Part 1 of 3)

God’s Blueprint for a Healthy Marriage (Part 1 of 3)

Dr. Timothy Keller and his wife, Kathy, describe their personal marriage journey and how a biblically-rooted understanding of God's design for marriage transcends that of both ancient and modern cultures. (Part 1 of 3)
Listen to Part 2
Listen to Part 3
Original Air Date: February 13, 2012


John Fuller: Welcome to “Focus on the Family” with your host, Focus president, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and today’s the start of an excellent three-day series with Tim and Kathy Keller about the true meaning of marriage.

Jim Daly: John, as we begin today, here’s a description they’ve given to that all-important union of man and wife. Dr. Keller wrote, “There’s no relationship between human beings that is greater or more important than marriage. And that’s why, like knowing God Himself, coming to know and love your spouse is difficult and painful, yet rewarding and wondrous. And if you’re in a healthy marriage, I’m sure you can identify with the kinds of struggles and triumphs described in Dr. Keller’s quote there.

Now today we have a very important conversation to married couples and singles about God’s design for your marriage relationship and believe me, I’m glad you’re joining us.

John: Well, Dr. Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He has a doctorate in ministry and he and his wife, Kathy have written a great book called The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.

Jim: John, I’ve read this book. I think it is the best marriage book I have ever read for one critical reason. It shares the foundation for why marriage is so important and why it reflects God’s image. Tim and Kathy Keller, they’ve been married 37 years. You know, Tim is kind of the reflective guy, the thinker. You can hear Kathy. She’s spunky and–

John: Hm.

Jim: –she gives it right back to him. It’s fun. (Laughter)

John: It really was a great conversation. It was recordedat their church office inManhattan. And Dr. Keller has written a number of books. Kathy has a Master’s degree is theological studies from Gordon Conwell Seminary. And that’s where the two of them met. Let’s go ahead and listen to Dr. Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy on today’s “Focus on the Family.”


Jim: It is great that you’ve written this book and you do such a wonderful job writing and the way that you pull Scripture and I believe, God’s passion for the family, design for the family, design for marriage. I think you’ve done a beautiful job. But let’s set the scene for the listeners. When you look at marriage in the United States today, most of us in the Christian community look at it and say, it’s on the ropes. Marriage is struggling. There’s difficulty. You look at the statistics which you quoted in the book, in the 1970s, I think it was, 89 percent of babies born were born to a married couples’ home. Today that’s down to about 60 percent.

Dr. Tim Keller: Uh-hm.

Jim: And you look right around 1960, about 72 percent of adults were married. Now it’s down to about 50 percent.

Tim: Right.

Jim: What is happening in the landscape of marriage in our country and in other countries?

Tim: Yeah, it’s troubled. There’s no doubt about it. But I think we’re probably gonna come up against reality. More and more there’s research that comes back. And it’s I think becoming common knowledge and that research is, that people who are married long-term, you know, are happier. They’re healthier. Their children thrive. They make more money. They’re save more money. They’re more economically productive. It’s astounding.

AndI would say we had a generation in which the popular culture said, marriage is optional and may be binding. And there [are] a lot of jokes about it. You know, Chris Rock says, “Do you want to be single and lonely or married and miserable? And that’s your two options.” And everybody jokes about it.

And so, at popular cultural level, especially amongst blue-collar people, more and more people are saying, “Well, marriage is an optional thing and it’s obsolete.” But I actually am seeing that even with secular people who are pretty smart and they were kind of against traditional values, they’re starting to admit that we probably can’t do without marriage.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: That we’re gonna come up against the hard reality, that there really is no better social arrangement for the health of society.

Jim: Are you saying there that-there’s the bottom?

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: You think there’s a floor to it.

Tim: I think just like, you know, divorce is still high, but it’s startin’ to turn a little bit. And people are more negative about divorce than they were say, 15 years ago.

Mrs. Kathy Keller: Tim, do you think that part of the reason that marriage is suffering is because the whole cultural flow is to keep your options open?

Tim: Yes.

Kathy: Never commit to going to a movie at 8 o’clock, because at 7:58 you might decide you want to do something else.

Tim: There’s all kinds of cultural trends that are working against marriage and you can see it. But I don’t think there’ll be an infinite regress. I just don’t think it can go away. The reality is that it’s just actually too healthy an experience to have. But one of the things that all of the people are pointing out with the empirical research is, that there’s a lot of happily married people–

Jim: Right.

Tim: –a lot of happily married people.

Jim: We need to celebrate that.

Tim: It’s right.

John: We don’t celebrate that a whole lot.

Kathy: Well, that’s sort of a “dog bites man” story. You want to–

Tim: Nobody–

Kathy: –hear the “man bites–

Tim: –writes about it.

Kathy: –dog” story–

Tim: Right.

Kathy: –and the misery is what makes for the tension in the–

Tim: The story.

Kathy: –drama or the story or anything else like that.

Tim: Yeah and there’s even statistics that say that studies show that people who say they’re unhappy, if they stay together five years later, like three quarters of them say they’re happy five years later. So, if you stick with it–

Jim: Work through it.

Tim: –the great majority of marriages actually can be salvaged. So, the statistics are showing that marriage is here to stay. And I’ve actually read a couple of recent books that sort of yell about how marriage is oppressive and we need to be more open to other relationships if we’re married. And we shouldn’t be Victorian about it. In the end [they] say, we can’t do without marriage. And I think it’s because they’re reading the–

Jim: The research.

Tim: –empirical studies. Yeah. So, I actually do think that on a common grace level and can I say that–

Jim: Hm.

Tim: –there’s enough common grace out there, that even though people are turning away from God, that they’re recognizing that something like traditional marriage is something we can’t do without.

Jim: Well, and you’re right here in Manhattan and the church that you pastor, there’s a lot of singles in your church.

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: And a lot of people here in Manhattan probably have more pets than they do kids.

Kathy: Oh, for sure.

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: Why is this confusion occurring related to marriage, especially in the 20-, 30-something age group? What’s going on?

Kathy: Well, again, I think it’s that this generation more so than any other generation–I’m judging from my own kids, who are Christians and on the road to sanctification– they still don’t want to have their options closed off. It’s a bad feeling to feel like I’m committed to something and I now can’t change my mind.

In fact, one of our sons when he was going on a missions trip, said, ” learnedthis about myself. As soon as I say yes, I’m gonna wish I had said no. But that’s gonna happen to me and I’m just gonna sort of live through it and wait for it to go away, because in the end, I’ll be happy that I actually went through with it.”

Jim: Hm.

Kathy: So, he knows his own heart enough to know that he’s gonna have “buyer’s remorse,” so to speak. And I think anybody who makes any kind of commitment, has a certain degree of buyer’s remorse. It’s just that in a generation that lives so much by their feelings, they tend to act on that or they tend to recoil from that. They don’t want to feel that way. So, I’ll never have buyer’s remorse if I never buy anything.

Jim: Hm.

Kathy: So, if I never make any commitments, whether it’s to go to a movie or to join a club or to become a member of a church or to get married, then I never have to live with the feeling like, “Uh-oh, what have I done?”

Jim: What is at the core of that fear, Kathy?

Kathy: Well, I think what I have seen in people is, that they look to the other person to give them security–

Tim: Yes.

Kathy: –that this is going to be a good relationship. I’mgonna be safe in this relationship. This is going to be what meets my needs. And so, they keep pressing the other person to make sure that they don’t have any hidden deficiencies, you know, wishing that there were a lemon law for people, you know, like there are for cars. (Laughter)

But the person that they’re failing to trust is God, because you can’t actually trust a human being or a car or anything else. You don’t know what the future’s going to bring. So, it’s really a spiritual weakness as far as your relationship to God, that gives you the fear of entering into any kind of covenant or commitment–a commitment to teach Sunday school or a commitment to get married–because you are afraid of the future and only God knows what the future’s going to bring. You can’t nail another person or an institution down to say, “Now I want to make sure there’s no potholes in my future.” There [are] potholes and God knows what they are, so you have to put your trust in Him. But yet, people keep pressing, “I’m not sure I can trust this person. How do I know this is the right person?” And Tim, you wrote quite a bit in the book about having this unrealistically magical view of marriage, like it’s goingto solve all your problems.

Tim: Which means you have to find a perfect person.

Kathy: Right, which doesn’t exist.

Tim: And that’s the reason why you’re such a perfectionist. You’re afraid of marrying somebody who’s not perfect, because if you find the right person, according to Hollywood, everything will fall into place. So, ironically, they’re so idealistic that they’re pessimistic. They’re so idealistic about what marriage oughta be,oughta solve everything, that they find fault in everybody, ’cause everybody does have a flaw and there is no perfect person out there.

John: Hm.

Tim: So, it’s a paradox. The fear actually is driven by almost an idolatry of romantic love, saying, “This’ll fix everything.”

Kathy: And they lived happily ever after.

Tim: They lived happily ever after.

Jim: Hm. In your marriage, where did you start to formulate these things? What observations did you have that beganto reveal these truths to you? Did you have stories in your own marriage that went, “Wow, okay, this is how I’m acting and behaving and it’s not right,” the selfishness perhaps?

Tim: Because we were two seminary students at Gordon-Conwell in the ’70s, we studied Reformed Theology, which by the way, has a pretty realistic or some people would say, pessimistic view of human nature.

John: Uh-hm.

Tim: We studied under Elisabeth Elliot, who has a very realistic view of how hard relationships are. She’s a very no-nonsense person, as you know. I think we were pretty well prepared to expect marriage to be glorious and yet, hard, because people are sinners. You marry a sinner and your spouse marries a sinner. So, I don’t think we had that idealism that a lot of people are plagued with. And I think it’s not because we were so much smarter than anybody else, but God in His mercy, gave us a pretty good preparation when–

Kathy: Well–.

Tim: –we were pretty young.

Jim: Hm.

Kathy: — that’s true and part of that preparation was, there were so many other young couples that were getting married around the same time that we were. And when you’re in a community of young couples, you don’t feel quite so isolated, so that youare thinking–

Tim: That’s right.

Kathy: –“Mine’s the only marriage that’s having all these bumps in the road. Everybody else is living the happily ever after fairy tale.” And the dedication in our book is to five other seminary couples.

Tim: Yeah, want to give a little background to that?

Kathy: Yeah, there were six women–I was one of them–who became very good friends at seminary. We prayed together. We wept together. We grieved over boyfriends that left, together. And (Laughter) we all got together on Sundays to have a meal with the husbands that stayed the same or the boyfriends changed somewhat. And we would be in the kitchen, talking heavy theology and the guys would all be in the living room, watching–

Tim: Watching the Steelers.

Kathy: –the (Laughing) sport du jour, is actually was what it was–

John: The Steelers (Laughter).

Kathy: –not talking.

Tim:I amnot backing off.

Kathy: However, the point is, we’ve been around each other now. We’ve been close friends. We go to each other’s weddings and vacations and we do grieve with each other deaths of parents and cancers and everything else. You have other people that know you deeply enough and that you know their marriage deeply enough, that you don’t have an unrealistic view of your own. You’re not living in a vacuum. You actually have access to other people’s experiences besides your own. And I would recommend that to anybody. Don’t go it alone as a couple, any more than you do as a Christian.

Jim: Don’t you think though, in our culture particularly where we don’t know our neighbor, we hit the garage door, boom!

Kathy: Ah.

Jim: We go in.I think your experience may be a bit unique to many people. I think a lot of people are isolated and they don’t know other people’s marriages that well and they don’t allow others to know their marriages.

Kathy: I’m sure that’s true. I can still remember whenever the first flurry of marriages amongst the single people at Redeemer took place, one of the women started a newlyweds Bible study. And they–

Tim: Yeah.

Kathy: –threw the curriculum out the window after the first week, because all they really wanted to do was get together and say, “You, too? Is it that hard for you, too? I’m not the only one it’s hard for.” They just consoled one another, that it was hard, because nobody had led them to believe that it was going to be hard.

Tim: Well, the old way of communicating was through phone calls, visits and letters. And it will be hard for some of the people listening to this to remember (Laughter) any of those. Social media, you do not talk about your marriage problems. You can’t really. I mean, in fact, I think it’s George Bernard Shaw said, “Life is not about discovering yourself. It’s about creating yourself.”

Jim: Hm.

Tim: And there’s nothing more than Facebook and social media that enhances that part of you that wants to say, “I’m gonna create myself. I’m gonna–

John: Uh-hm.

Tim: –show people.

Jim: Create an image.

Tim: Yeah, yeah. I mean–

Kathy: Yeah.

Tim: –especially since more and more people, by the way, are finding jobs over the Internet through social media. And 80 percent of all hires now, when they’re being hired, their Facebook page is looked at. And so, more and more people are creating themselves and that’s not the way for you. You’re not gonna be sharing about your marriage problems with your friends from seminary or college through Facebook. But what they used to do is, these six women always wrote a “round-robin letter,” which they still do.

Kathy: Even though we call and e-mail each other.

Tim: Yeah, they e-mail almost every day. But that letter actually has six letters in it. And when you open it up, you take yours out. Yours is the oldest. And then you you read all the rest of ’em and then you write a new one and you put it in and around it goes.

John: Hm.

Tim: And they are way more candid in there than you ever are going to be on Facebook.

Program Note:

John: A pretty unique idea from Dr. Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and we had a special visitwith the Kellers about God’sdesign for marriage and they’ve written a book called The Meaning of Marriage. You can get that from us at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let’s go ahead and continue now with the Kellers on today’s “Focus on the Family.”

End of Program Note

Jim: Let me ask this question, Tim and Kathy. Oftentimes at Focus on the Family, if we’re talking about an argument or arguing with our spouse, we’ll get mail from people who say, “We never argue. Christians should not argue.” Is that healthy or unhealthy?

Tim: I would say generally unhealthy, because if you say, “We never argue,” probably one person is walking all over the other one. I could be wrong on that. I wouldn’t say it absolutely–

Jim: Right.

Tim: –but generally it means, one person has basically learned to say–

Kathy: “Yes, dear.”

Tim: –(Laughter) well, you can have the Stepford Wives thing, “Yes, dear; yes, dear.” You know, you’re just programmed to never talk back or [a] Stepford Husband.

Jim: Right.

Kathy: And that’s not how you do “iron sharpening iron” without a little bit of sparks flying.

Jim: And I don’t mean aggressive arguing. I just–

Kathy: No.

Jim: –mean–

Kathy: No, no.

Jim: –disagreement and–

Kathy: Disagreeing.

Tim: Well–

Jim: –resolution.

Tim: –one could be too domineering, the other one just hides. The other way would be, they’ve agreed to disagree on so many things that they just don’t go to those places. And occasionally that’s all right, but by and large, that’s not how you become a unit.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: I mean, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” That’s not just talking about sex and bodies. One flesh means a new unit, you know, a new person almost. I mean, you know, in the Bible when it says, “My Spirit will be poured out on all flesh,” it’s not saying on all bodies, it’s saying on all people. So, “flesh” is a kind of metaphor for a person. So, the two shall become one flesh means something much more than a business–

Kathy: Uh-huh.

Tim: –partnership where everybody–

Kathy: The sum of the whole–

Tim: –stays out of each other’s–

Kathy: –is greater than–

Tim: –way.

Kathy: –the parts.

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: Well, that’s a good place to talk about how marriage has kind of devolved into simply a physical relationship–

Tim: Right.

Jim: –which does lead younger couples to try cohabitation–

Tim: Uh-hm.

Jim: –over marriage. Let’s try each other out physically and make–

Tim: As if–

Jim: –sure that we’re compatible.

Tim: — that’s the big thing.

Jim: Right. Talk about that, ’cause you mentioned that in the book quite a bit and I think it’s a really important point.

Kathy: Well, you don’t really learn to know the other person when you still have the back door open where you can scoot out, because it’s not until you’ve made the commitment to people, to one another in a marriage that you actually have learned that uh-oh, there’s no getting out of this, so I have to find a solution. Solutions are much harder than just escaping the problem.

And the cultural consensus today is, that what I want in marriage, in fact it’s an ad on the air right now by one of the dating services, the Internet dating services, that have the fellow saying, “Well, what I want is, I want to find a woman who doesn’t want to change me.” And you know, “And I won’t change her either.” Well, marriage is actually supposed to be a vehicle for change. It’s supposed to be helping one another towards the person that God intends you to be. It’s one of the greatest tools that God has invented to help you become the person. I mean, if you go to Ephesians 5 and the book actually talks quite about Ephesians 5, Christ spends a lot of time sanctifying His church. We’re supposed to be sanctifying one another, helping one another to become that person that God wants us to be.

Jim: Kathy, but people are really hearing what you’re saying right now, to think of marriage as a sanctification process. That’s a new thought for–

Kathy: Really?

Jim: –many people.

Kathy: Is that really true?

Jim: I believe so. I believe people don’ t really understand marriage in a biblical context that way.

Kathy: Well, I’m sure you’re right, because culturally marriage is just finding someone that’s fun to be with and you can have really good sex and they don’t bug you too much. You know, your wins are more than your losses.

Tim: In other words, you’re consuming.

Kathy: Yes, it’s a consumer relationship.

Tim: Right, in other words, you are a dispenser of sexual goods and services. and maybe recreational goods and services and maybe companionship–

Kathy: And–

Tim: –goods and services.

Kathy: –dinner.

Tim: And if I think your products are a good deal for the price, which should be not high, then I will be very happy to stay with you. See, that’s my answer to the question, “What about cohabiting?” I actually think that having sex with somebody you’re not married to is no preparation for having sex with someone you’re married to. Not at all. In fact, it teaches you all the wrong things.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: Because when you’re living with somebody who could walk any time, then you’re still in promotion and marketing phase. You have to be. You can’t really be vulnerable. You can’t really be truly naked.

Jim: ‘Cause you’re worried the person’s going toleave.

Tim: Yeah, you’ve gotta be constantly spinning. Yeah, they could leave any time, which means you’re selling yourself and they’re buying. You’re not in a committed covenantal relationship.

Kathy: Victoria’s Secret would go out of business if–

Tim: You’re in a consumer–

Kathy: –it wasn’t for that.

Tim: –vendor relationship. You better not put any weight on.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: You know, or that’s it or you better not go into a month of really being kind of blue and go into a, you know, a semi-depressed “funk” for a while, because I’m outta here. In which case, you’ve gotta just pull it together. So, you’re really not loving the other person.

Jim: But let me ask–

Tim: You’re selling yourself.

Jim: –this question. When you look at the institution of marriage and a young couple that gets married, it is feeling like that’s simply a speed bump, because people are divorcing for very simple reasons. Here at Focus–

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: –we doreceive letters from Christian couples, who will say, “We haven’t had an affair. We’re just kinda tired of each other”–

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: –in the Christian community.

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: Tim, what’s happening?

Tim: Well, because even once they get married, they keep this idea that marriage is a consumer-vendor relationship. In other words, as long as I’m being satisfied and I’m not being asked for too much, in other words, the price can’t be too high and the quality of the product has to be pretty good.

In other words, I go to another grocery store if the celery is fresher and the prices are a little bit lower. I’m gonna go there. I have no loyalty. I’m gonna go where I can get a better deal. And as long as you say, “We’re just not really getting much out of the relationship. We’re gonna walk,” it’s like a relationship with your grocer. It’s really not a covenant relationship.

Kathy: I think there might be another issue with that. I think Christian couples have by and large really imbibed the cultural narrative about sex, which is, it always has to be exciting. And frankly, there are a finite number of things that two human bodies can do with each other. And when you come to the end of that, in order to get the thrill back, you either have to find something new to do, which since it’s finite, you’re not going to, or find a new person to do it with.

Or biblically speaking, what you should do is, go back to those things that have become old hat and inject them with new meaning and new tenderness. And there’s been a lot of water under the bridge. There’s been a lot of experience. And holding hands now that we’ve been married 37 years is a different experience than holding hands when we were not even married. I mean, it’s not quite the electric jolt that it was when we held hands for the first time, but it has a whole lot more content to it.

And I’m not sure that couples have developed the ability to go back into their sexual lives and reinvent the tenderness and the meaning, reinfuse the tenderness and the meaning. And so, they come to the end and they get bored. Well, find somebody else.

Tim: In the book we say, I use this as an illustration. The first time Kathy held my hand, you know, I held it. You know, I reached out, got her hand and she squeezed back. I think all of us realize with the first time you kiss, it’s electric.

And then you say, “Oh, it’s three years later. We’re married and I don’t feel that electricity anymore.” I would like you to analyze that electricity. You know what it really was. It really wasn’t you loving her. It was the ego rush of knowing that this cool woman likes me. And you say, “Well, that’s love.” It wasn’t love. It was self-love. It was ego.

There is another kind of thrill that comes after years and years of giving to each other and standing by each other and serving each other. There is another kind of love that develops frankly. And it still can be very, very sexual and romantic. In fact, it’s a great basis for that. But it’s not just ego. It’s not the same thing. And I think a lot of people will say, “Ah, just lost the bloom, you know, the sex isn’t great anymore.” They don’t know that the vendor-consumer relationship, which is basically about building my ego up and the thrill is not the same thing as married love, covenantal married love.”


John: We’ll hear a lot more from Dr. Tim and Kathy Keller over the next couple of days here at “Focus on the Family.” And Jim, we’re wrapping up a great conversation about covenant marriage and the deeper things of that significant relationship. And the Kellers have written a book about this called The Meaning of Marriage.

Jim: John, I so appreciate what Tim and Kathy had to share there and I think it’s profound. I hope each of you are hearing the depth of what they had to say. This is not superficial stuff. Strong marriages are the foundation for healthy families and they provide the best environment to raise a child in Christ.

And if I could gently point out, this program undoubtedly will help many couples come back together. They’re probably thinking about divorce. They’re thinking about how they have lost the bloom, as Dr. Keller described. But covenantal love is forever. It’s a lifetime. You fight through these difficulties. And I would like to ask you to support Focus on the Family so we can help these marriages not just survive, but to thrive in Christ. Last year alone, 120,000 marriages were saved and I so appreciate that number that we track. We know without a doubt that marriages will be helped because of this content that we’re sharing with literally millions of people today.

And if I could be bold enough, I need to ask you for your financial support. In fact, let me play an audio clip of a message that we received from a woman recently.”


Woman: My sister heard part of your program yesterday and e-mailed me, so as soon as I got home from work I went to the website and I listened online. And wow! I felt like a light bulb went on. When my husband got home from work, we sat down together and we listened to it again and then afterwards, we had a really great talk. We ordered the resources that you offered and we can’t wait to see what they’re gonna do for our relationship. Saying thank you just doesn’t cover it. We really feel like you’ve renewed our hope.

End of Clip

Jim: Folks that is why we are here and your support, your giving helps us to strengthen marriages like the one you just hear about. Would you help us to touch more marriages by donating to Focus today? I hope I can count on you to be there for them through us. And let me say thank you. When you make a donation of any amount, we want to say thank you by sending you a copy of Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage. And because of some generous friends, when you give today, your gift’s gonna be dou

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The Meaning of Marriage

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