Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

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

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

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Original Air Date: February 15, 2012


John Fuller: Last time on “Focus on the Family,” Kathy Keller talked about the selfishness that permeates our culture and it’s so widespread and we see it in relationships and marriages and we’re born with it.


Kathy Keller: I mean, that first cry that a baby gives and as soon as it’s born, that “Waah!” If you had an interpreter it would say, “Me!” (Laughter) “It’s all about me; I’m cold; I’m hungry, me!” I mean, the “me” is from the beginning.

Tim Keller: Enough about you.

Kathy: Yeah, enough about you, me! Take care of me! And we learn various ways of saying that more in socially acceptable ways of saying that, but it really continues to be the thing that drives us. And other people exist to satisfy my needs, rather than me existing to satisfy the needs of other people.

End of Recap

John: Well, we’re going to feature Dr. Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy once again today, as we discuss some critical concepts about marriage. They’ve written about this in their book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.

I’m John Fuller and our host is Focus president, Jim Daly and Jim, this is such a riveting conversation. And that clip there gave our listeners a scent of what we’ve covered in the past couple of days, some really profound things about God’s design for marriage.

Jim Daly: John, our discussion with the Kellers to me, reminds me of an old gold mine. And we’re goin’ down this gold mine and sure enough, there are chunks of gold that we’re finding. And that’s how this conversation unfolded with me. Some things very simple, but wonderful reminders about the importance of marriage, that marriage is foundational to our society and culture, the fact, as Kathy was alluding to their, that it’s a battle between our selfishness and our unselfishness. I mean, that jumps right out of Scripture.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: And for me, that’s why this conversation was so captivating. And I’m lookin’ forward to the wrap up today, as again we talked to the Kellers about the many benefits in marriage when we follow God’s plan.

John: Yeah and last time we left off talking about the need for men to learn some self-mastery and some discipline. That’s good to have, particularly in marriage. And today we’ll address the ladies first. We’re gonna put you on the hot seat in a sense. As we get underway, a reminder to parents, that some of the content that we’re gonna be getting into here is really intended for adults only. So, please bear that in mind. Let’s go ahead and begin Part 3 of this conversation with Dr. Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy on “Focus on the Family.”


Jim: Kathy, let’s turn the table on the ladies.

Tim: Yeah, Kathy.

Kathy: Sure. (Laughter)

Jim: When you look at it, the woman’s role in the marriage, one of the classics, it’s the S word, “submission.”

Kathy: Submission.

Jim: And that comes up a lot within Christian circles. How do we do that? Again especially younger women who are going into college, they’re on a career path. They meet a guy; they get married. In their mind, they have a different definition perhaps than what the biblical definition is. Talk to us about submission. What is it? And what’s the definition?

Kathy: Wow, there [are] so many things I would love to say about submission. The first is I guess, that it’s something that you offer, that is not compelled from you, that there’s some man in your life saying, “You must submit.” He needs to be shown a better way.

Secondly, you shouldn’t marry someone who doesn’t have the same view of authority and headship as the Bible does, because it’s servant authority. There’s no fear in my mind of submitting to a man who is imitating Jesus, who is washing His disciples’ feet, as the climax of His leadership in telling His disciples, “Do likewise. I’ve done the same thing to you.” Jesus redefined what authority meant. He said the people in the world want to lord it over one another, but it should not be so with you. Your forms of authority, your forms of leadership are all servant leadership.

And for a woman to fear being submissive in a marriage to a man is very natural and right if you have some guy whose definition of being the head of the family is, “I make all the decisions; I get all the privileges. I get all the perks and you do what you’re told, little woman.” “Little Miss,” you know, with a John Wayne accent. That would be very scary to me, too, but if you are in a relationship with someone who is defining their authority and their headship the way Jesus defined authority and headship, then there’s nothing to fear. And I can imitate Jesus the way He submitted to His Father and didn’t cling to His prerogatives as God–this is Philippians 2–didn’t cling to His prerogatives as God, but emptied Himself, became a servant. So, that was what was revelatory to me–

Jim: Hm.

Kathy: –was to say that, if being submissive does not injure the second person in the Trinity, it can’t do me any harm. It’s something that’s a privilege for me to demonstrate that side of Jesus.

Jim: Well, in fact, in the book you said something that really caught my attention and that was the “gift of submission.” I’d never thought of it in that way, that this is something she offers up to her husband.

Kathy: Of course.

Jim: Talk a bit about that.

Kathy: Well, that’s what Jesus did to His Father, is He was the one Who offered Himself as the sacrifice. He wasn’t compelled. The Father didn’t boot Him out of heaven and say, “You do My dirty work and save those people.” It was something that He laid down His own life. No man can take My life from Me; I choose to do this.

And so, the choices the Jesus made were all ones that He offered as a way of glorifying His Father. And my choice to be submissive when that’s not my native personality, as I’ve already confessed, is something that I offer as a gift to Tim and actually, a gift to God, so that we are living out in our marriage, the roles of Jesus, both in His kingship and in His humility as a suffering servant.

Jim: Tim, how does a husband create the environment that his mate, his wife is willing to provide that gift? What does a man have to do?

Tim: That’s not that complicated, but it is hard. She just needs to see you, that you are really (Sigh) as unselfish as possible. I mean that she sees you deferring to her needs when it’s not a matter of principle. Like for example, if you know, I want to buy a blue car and she wants to buy a red car, if I say, “Well, I’m the husband; I want the blue,” when it’s nothing but a preference, that undermines her desire to want to submit to you, because you’re just showing–

Kathy: You’re using–

Tim: –you’re using power–

Kathy: –something selfish for it.

Tim: –selfishly. There’s no good reason to trump her at that point except to please yourself. And according to Ephesians 5, that’s exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed to do.

Jim: That’s the opportunity to lay your–

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: –own desires down.

Tim: At that point, what you oughta be saying is, “Well, Honey, okay, let’s do the red.” That’s my way of serving her. And the only time I should really be trumping her is when I think that for us together or for the family, that we can’t agree and yet, somebody’s gotta make the call. Somebody’s gotta pull the trigger. And I should do what I think is best for the family and for us together, not just to please myself. If she sees me using authority like that, she’ll be very happy to give it to me.

Jim: Okay, let’s get a little close to the heart here. In the book you talk about a situation where you ended up breaking some dishes to demonstrate–

Tim: Really?!

Kathy: (Laughing)

Jim: –a point. Illustrate that.

Kathy: Breaking dishes.

Jim: What happened?

Kathy: Well, that wasn’t so much a submission issue.

Jim: Well, what happened?

Tim: But Jim’s pointing out–

Kathy: Help me.

Tim: –the fact–

Kathy: Okay.

Tim: –that you were pushing back–

Kathy: Yes.

Tim: –inside this.

Kathy: Right.

Tim: We’re talking about headship and submission and you’re saying–

Kathy: Well–

Tim: –“I submit to my husband.”

Kathy: –part of what a woman does when she’s being submissive is, she brings every gift she has to the marriage–

Tim: Yeah.

Kathy: —not just a bunch of mealy-mouthed, “Yes, dear, yes, dear.” But she brings her strengths. She brings–

Jim: Her humanity.

Kathy: –well–

Jim: Her personhood.

Kathy: –the term, as we’ve said in the book and I think everybody must have heard by now, the word that’s used to mean “helpmeet,” eser, in the Genesis passage, when Eve is introduced to Adam is most frequently used of God. O God, our Help,” when it says “help suitable for him,” it’s the eser, suitable for him. And that word is most frequently used of God, Who’s nobody’s doormat, as we all know. He brings strengths that nobody had and couldn’t have had.

So, a wife brings her strengths into the marriage. Maybe she’s the better at finances. Maybe she’s the better at time management. Maybe she’s the better at what? But she brings those into the marriage as a gift and provides them to the marriage. Now the dish breaking thing.

Jim: I wasn’t gonna let you off the hook that time.

Kathy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know you’re not. Everybody wants to hear about the dishes. This was our wedding dishes and when we were coming to New York, my biggest fear was, Tim’s already a workaholic. What is going to New York gonna do to him? I mean, even if you say no to 99 things out of a hundred, what are you gonna say when the U.N. General Assembly says, “Please open us with prayer on Thursday” and Thursday is your son’s birthday? Are you gonna say no? I mean, when the stakes are raised, how are you going to turn down things? I mean, you’re already [finding it] painful for you to turn down things.

And we agreed that planting a church did mean that there was going to be a period in which Tim would be working unreasonable hours. It’s a hard thing to get a church started, to get any mom and pop business kinda started.

Tim: So, you agreed to three years.

Kathy: We agreed to a three-year period in which things would be out of balance. And then you’d scale back. And we were in year–.

Tim: And I didn’t.

Kathy: –4 1/2 and nothing had changed. It was still, every time one block of time freed up, there was always something to move in and take it over. And I had nagged for so many years, that my nagging was now falling on deaf ears, partly my own fault, partly his fault. I think we’re both culpable there.

But I realized that I had to get his attention because he was injuring himself with these hours. He was injuring the family. Our boys needed his attention. The church couldn’t become dependent on him to be everything that they needed him to be. And I had no way to do it. I had exhausted all of my abilities. So, I had what I call a “godly tantrum.” And (Laughter) that meant, I was in control. I wasn’t having a fit. I wasn’t freaking out. And you–

Tim: No, I thought she was.

Kathy: –can only do this once in your marriage, I think. You really can’t do it every–

Jim: This is a big–

Kathy: –week.

Jim: –marble.

Kathy: A big marble.

John: You gotta be strategic about it.

Kathy: Save this; save this for when you need it. Maybe you’ll never need it. But I took the china or the dishes out onto our balcony, which is cement and a hammer and when Tim came in, there I was smashing them with the hammer.

Jim: Why were you doing that?

Kathy: Because I had to do some–

Tim: [To] get my attention.

Kathy: –dramatic thing to get Tim’s attention to say, “You are breaking things–

Jim: So, it was very much–

Kathy: –in our marriage.

Jim: –premeditated.

Kathy: It was–

Tim: Oh, yeah.

Kathy: –premeditated and in total cold blood.

Jim: It wasn’t that you didn’t like the color.

Kathy: Tim thought I had lost my marbles–

Tim: Yeah. I sat–

Kathy: –and I was–

Tim: –down and listened.

Kathy: –freaking out. Blood drained out of his face.

Jim: So, you got his attention.

Kathy: Oh, I did get his–

Tim: But the–

Kathy: –attention.

Tim: — point is, that submitting to your husband does not mean you can’t push back, confront. And if your husband is blind to something, how loving is it just to say, “Well, I guess I can’t say anything because he’s the boss.”

Kathy: Oh, heavens, I’ve heard some people say you shouldn’t tell your husband if he makes a wrong turn on the map and you’re going somewhere. You just let him wander around–

Tim: The point is–

Kathy: –for half an hour.

Tim: –submission means loving your husband through submission and to say, “I see he’s walkin’ off a cliff and you know, but I don’t want to say anything.” A submissive wife can be very, very, very forthright, can be very [confrontational], can really push back pretty hard, otherwise you’re really not loving your husband.

Kathy: But it’s in your motives.

Jim: So, we need to go into marriage thinking about that though. We need to be thinking that, A, this is gonna be tough. We want to open the door for confrontation, healthy confrontation in the marriage so that God’s sanctification process can be at work in our lives–

Tim: Uh-hm.

Jim: –so that the goal is to present one another blameless before the Lord. In that context, you have given us great thoughts and ideas on how to go about doing that.

Kathy: Can I tell you the footnote to the dishes? There’s just a little footnote that Tim didn’t find out till much later. I was only breaking the saucers to which I no longer had any cups. (Laughter)

Tim: There were only three of them. (Laughter)

John: But you didn’t know that at the time, did you?

Kathy: He didn’t know that, no.

Tim: No, I didn’t. The point was, she was gambling that I would sit down and listen to her–

Kathy: Before I got to the–

Tim: –and really–

Kathy: –good stuff.

Tim: –take it to heart before she had to break a saucer for which she did have a cup. (Laughter)

John: This is a great illustration. I’m glad you shared it, because it does show how dramatic we have to be sometimes to help our spouse see a truth that they are unwilling to see. But talk to somebody’s listening right now and they’re thinking, “That’s great. At least your husband heard you. My husband won’t hear me.” Or “I can’t talk to my wife because she’s not interested in being sanctified anymore through me, thank you very much.” Give that person a tool or some hope or a good word, because they don’t see how they can possibly take that step.

Kathy: I know there are people who are in those difficult marriages. And that’s a hard assignment from God, to be in a marriage that’s either unequal, where the person doesn’t share your commitment to Christ or doesn’t have your understanding of what authority is or what submission ought to mean in the marriage or is just blind to a flaw and will not see.

Sometimes an intervention helps where there’s more than just the wife saying, “You have a problem with your drinking” or with your work hours or whatever that’s commonplace in our culture. But sometimes it’s just a long difficult assignment that God has given you.

I’ve had over 20 trips to the operating room. It’s not something I would’ve ever asked for, but that was my assignment. That was God’s assignment for me for that period of my life. And you can’t kick against the pricks. You accept what God hands you and you say, “Let me glorify You in this.” And if you are in a very difficult marriage for which you don’t see a way out, well, the first thing is, you can always change yourself. That’s the one thing that everyone will tell you. You can always change yourself. If you can’t change the other person, you can change yourself. You can get counseling for yourself. You can up your prayer life and your relationship to Christ, so that you have–

John: Uh-hm.

Kathy: –the tools to handle this. But sometimes you just have to recognize that there is not any easy way to solve this problem and that God is asking you to glorify Him by having a very difficult marriage and being dependent on Him in the midst of it.

Jim: But in that context, you continue to work with the hope that it will–

Kathy: Of course.

Jim: –be better.

Kathy: Of course.

Tim: Yeah. I would say, let’s just say you’re the wife and you have a vision for being a good Christian spouse. And your husband is being selfish and has no desire to respond. So, there [are] two things you can do. The one is, if your husband’s not being the spouse he should be, you can either say, “Well, then I’m not gonna be the wife I should be. I’m gonna just make do.” You know as a–

Jim: So, kind of lock-down mode.

Tim: –yeah, kind of lock-down, so that if you’re gonna be selfish, I’m gonna be selfish. And whether the marriage survives or not, it’ll be your fault, because I tried. And I don’t know whether the marriage’ll survive or not.

The other thing you can do is say, “You’re not being the husband you oughta be, but I’m gonna be the wife as much as possible, that I oughta be.” Now if you do that, your conscience will be clear. The marriage will actually probably be better. You’ll put yourself in the place where you could receive some success. That is to say, your husband could wake up at some point, look back and say, “You know what? I’ve really been selfish and you, for the last three years, you’ve been really trying and I’m so sorry.”

So, if you say, “I’m gonna be the wife I oughta be, even though he’s not being the husband he oughta be, that keeps your conscience clear before God. It puts you in a position to maybe improve your marriage. But if you say no, I’m gonna not be the wife I oughta be, you put yourself in a position where even if he’s never gonna wake up or if he does wake up, you won’t be there.

Kathy: And Paul encourages women to say that their husbands can be won without a word by their godly behavior. I do want to say though to any woman who may be suffering actual physical abuse, that one of the ways in which you can be a submissive wife and still not be a doormat and just be battered and put up with that is you say, “Honey, I love you and this is bad behavior. And I’ve called the police and I’ll visit you in prison.”

Jim: Hm.

Kathy: I mean, there’s no reason that, that’s not submissiveness. You want him to become the person–

Tim: It–

Kathy: –he should be in Christ and that involves not beating–

Tim: It’s never loving–

Kathy: –you up.

Tim: –to let somebody sin, to make it easy for somebody to sin. That’s the worst thing you can do for them.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: That’s another reason why being a submissive wife does not mean just letting the person just trample on you.

Jim: Yeah.

Kathy: Physically, I mean–

Tim: If it’s sinful.

Kathy: –literally.

Jim: Well, that’s good advice and that’s why we have counselors at Focus on the Family–

Kathy: That’s right.

Jim: –in order to help you in that situation. So, if you’re in that situation, do call us and John, you’ll give the details–

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: –at the end of the program. We need to talk a bit about the sexual relationship. We touched on it in our conversations, but we need to I think, talk a moment about it.

Tim: Uh-hm.

Jim: Kathy, in that relationship, I think again here at Focus on the Family, when we hear from women, wives, this is a really tender area, because women feel very manipulated here, because their husbands demand or want perhaps physical attention far more than they’re willing to give. What advice do you have for a woman–

Kathy: (Laughing)

Jim: –in marriage? (Chuckling)

Kathy: Well, Tim’s wincing because he knows what I’m gonna say.

Jim: Well–

Tim: No, I don’t.

Jim: –let’s hear it.

Tim: No, I’m wincing because I don’t know what you’re gonna say. (Laughter)

Jim: Yeah. But really for that wife that this has been an issue and it’s been a struggle and probably a point of great pain for the marriage, what do you say to her?

Kathy: If you are giving something as a gift and that’s what Scripture says, your body doesn’t belong to yourself; it belongs to your husband. Or to the husband, your body doesn’t belong to yourself; it belongs to the wife. Now it’s nice if both partners recognize that, but say your husband doesn’t and he just thinks, “I have sexual needs and you’re here to fulfill them, okay?” And that’s not what you want and it’s not romantic and it’s not tender, etc. But that’s okay. If you offer yourself as a gift and say, “I’m not really in the mood, but you know, I know that it’s important to you, so that’s all right. That–

Jim: That’s a gift.

Kathy: –every sexual experience does not have to be some mountain-top, you know, hearts and flowers and violins. It’s nice to have that occasionally, yes, of course. But someone once said that there’s three kinds of sex. There is appetizer sex, which is just you know, quick and it’s fulfilling a need and allowing you relief. There’s meat and potatoes married sex, which is just the normal sexual relationship that you have on a routine basis. And then there would be gourmet sex, where you get away from the kids for a weekend and you have a long time to talk and to be romantic and the–

Tim: So, make the atmosphere.

Kathy: –flowers and the hearts, etc.–

Jim: How do you order–

Kathy: –and set the atmosphere.

Jim: –off this menu? (Laughter)

Kathy: Yeah. Well there are different times and season in your life, when you have young children and when the kids are out of the house.

Tim: Yeah.

Kathy: I mean, there are seasons in your life. Everything doesn’t have to happen all the time the same way it happened before you had children. It won’t be the same as after children.

Tim: Yeah. When I was a younger minister in probably much of the early days of my ministry, there was a couple that came to me for marriage counseling. And they say, “We get nothing out of sex anymore.” I think they were pretty young, but they get nothing out of sex. And they said, “Neither of us seem to know what to do and I’m not getting anything out of sex and it’s really bad.”

And I gave ’em an assignment. I said, “For the next week, I want you to have sex every night, maybe with one night off. And I don’t want you to care whether you’re getting any satisfaction. Your only goal is to give the other person as much satisfaction as possible. So, I don’t care whether you have a sexual thrill or satisfaction tonight. Your goal is to do what you know the other person wants and then make that person as happy and as thrilled and as sexually satisfied in that encounter as possible. But just do it because you’re trying to please the other person, not because you’re tryin’ to get anything out of it.”

They said, “What?” I said, “Yeah, do that for a week.” And they came back at the end of one week and they’d done it, because I told them to do it. And I said, “How was it?” And they said, “Weird.” I said, “Well, do it another week.” And at the end of another week, they came back and [I] said, “How was it?” And they said, “Better.” And at the end of the third week, they came back and said, “It’s getting great.”

Jim: Hm.

Tim: I said, “Don’t even think about whether you feel like having sex or whether you’re getting anything out of it. Make the sex act a way of serving your spouse–

Jim: Hm.

Tim: –giving intimacy, giving service. It revolutionized their whole marriage.

Jim: And even in that, Tim, what you’re teaching there and I think it’s what the Bible’s teaching is the selflessness–

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: –even in that physical act–

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: –in marriage.

Tim: It’s not a consumer-vendor thing.

Jim: Right.

Tim: It’s an expression of your whole life commitment to this other person.

Jim: Let’s talk a moment about mission, your mission in marriage. You talk about that in the book. What do you mean by that, that you need a mission in your marriage?

Tim: Well, here’s the question; what’s your marriage really about? What’s the ultimate purpose of your marriage?

Jim: Should a couple start there?

Tim: I think so, because what I’m tryin’ to get them to think of when I ask that question is to say, is this marriage basically about you building a better economic future for yourselves, which I think a lot of people think it’s about sex, recreation and having more economic security. Very often the wife particularly said, “I’m looking for a breadwinner.” But very often the husband knows, no, you know, maybe it’ll be two incomes and we can have, you know, [a] nicer home or two homes or something like that. I said, no; the purpose of marriage, your real mission is not just to be good business partners with sex thrown in.

It’s to help God do the work in the other person’s life that God wants to have done. Because in Philippians 1:6, Paul says, “I am convinced that the good work God began in you, He will bring to completion on the day of Jesus Christ. So, God is at work in a Christian’s life to turn them from a … a marble statue into “David,” as it were, as Kathy was saying earlier. And you get excited by what you see God doing in the life of your spouse. And you say, “The person God is making thrills me and I want to be part of that. And I want to help you grow and I want you to help me grow. And let us get married because we want to walk together to the Throne.” That’s the mission.

Jim: I hope that people have been touched by what we’ve talked about. And I think your book, The Meaning of Marriage honestly is the best book that I’ve ever read regarding marriage. And I think every couple, oh and every single person that would think about getting married should get ahold of the book and read it, because I think it is that powerful. And it’s so well rooted in biblical truth. You’ve done a fantastic job describing God’s design for marriage, which we so desperately need in the culture right now. So, thank you for writing it. Thank you for being on “Focus on the Family.” We really appreciate it.

Kathy: Thank you for having us.

Tim: Oh, thanks, Jim.


John: What a terrific series we’ve had with Dr. Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy. And I hope that these “Focus on the Family” broadcasts have benefitted you as you’ve listened and I hope that you’ve recommended these programs to others, as well. This is kind of “must listen to” radio here.

Jim: Well, John, I am thrilled with the numbers of marriages that we are impacting with programs like this one throughout the year. And last year along, over 700,000 marriages were strengthened through Focus on the Family. We do annual research to better understand how we together are impacting people and this is a good one, too, 120,000 singles told us we’ve helped them prepare for marriage over this past year.

Now there [are] two reasons that this is occurring. One is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is allowing us to impact these lives with the Gospel, with wisdom in the area of marriage, with great guests like Dr. Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy and also because of your support of the ministry. This doesn’t happen simply because it’s all free. We have to pay for air time. We have to pay for the resources to create those tools, so that couples can better understand why they should stay together, especially as Christians.

And this broadcast, it goes all around the world. It’s airing in over 100 countries and we know that we’re speaking into the lives of people that are in desperate situations. In fact, there was a woman in South Africa who was in a very tough spot and here’s what she told us.


Woman: My husband is not working. I look after him and the children, but when he’s drunk, he tells me that he doesn’t love me, even if I’m the one taking care of the house. And now I want to give up everything because I’m sick and tired. I don’t know what to do anymore. Please help.

End of Clip

Jim: Oh, man, how do we say we’re not here for you? That woman’s heart is breaking about her relationship. And it shows that marriage difficulties are around the world. It’s not an American thin

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