The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller – Chp 1 – The Secret of Marriage


Opening Prayer

Ice Breaker

Small Group Guidelines

Resting in the Text:  Ephesians 5:18-33 (p. 19 of The Meaning of Marriage)

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you were (or since you are) single, what were your expectations of marriage?
  2. On pages 22-23, author Timothy Keller reviews statistics that indicate that marriage, as an institution, in on the decline in western culture.  How does this concur (or not) with what you see in the world?
  3. What are some of the good qualities about marriage? (Use an example from your own life or from the book, pp. 23-24.)
  4. Timothy Keller writes that there was a profound change in western cultures understanding of marriage in the 18th and 19th century.  He writes, “Instead of finding meaning through self-denial, through giving up one’s freedoms, and binding oneself to the duties of marriage and family, marriage was redefined as finding emotional and sexual fulfillment and self-actualization (28).”  How would you describe this shift in your own words?
  5. Can you give an example of an attitude that illustrates how “Marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me (29)?
  6. Looking for a marriage relationship with the perfect soul-mate who will meet our needs and not require us to change leads to what Keller calls “idealistic pessimism.”  He writes, “Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for” (33).  In your life before marriage are there examples of idealistic pessimism? Feel free to describe one.
  7. Keller quotes Stanley Hauerwas who writes the following critique of current understandings of marriage, “Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person.  The moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage.  It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person….  The primary problem is … learning to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married” (38).  What do you think of what Hauerwas wrote?
  8. What is the profound mystery about marriage that Paul is referring to in Ephesians 5:32?
  9. What difference does Jesus Christ make in a marriage?
  10. Have someone read aloud, perhaps by taking turns, pp. 48-49 starting with, “There, then is the message of this book…”

Closing Prayer Time

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller – Chp 2 – The Power for Marriage


Opening Prayer

Ice Breaker

Resting in the Text:  Ephesians 5:18-33 (p. 19 of The Meaning of Marriage)

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does being filled with the Spirit, that is, knowing that you are  unconditionally loved by Jesus, help a person to submit to their spouse (52)?
  2. How does self-centredness pull us away from having a healthy marriage (56-57)?
  3. Timothy Keller writes, “…you only discover your own happiness after each of you has put the happiness of your spouse ahead of your own, in a sustained way, in response to what Jesus has done for you” (58).  Describe a time when you choose to put the happiness of your spouse or someone close to you ahead of your own happiness.  Describe how you felt afterwards.
  4. Keller tells us, “If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ then you have the prospect of a truly great marriage” (65).  What is your response to that statement?  Give an example of what would that look like in a marriage?
  5. We read on page 68 of The Meaning of Marriage, “only out of the fear of the Lord Jesus will we be liberated to serve one another” (68).  What does the author mean by this statement?
  6. After writing about the effect on his own life of delving deeply into the writings of C. S. Lewis, Timothy Keller asks, “What, then would the effect be if we were to dive even more deeply into Jesus’s teaching and life and work?” (74).  How would you answer that question?
  7. Read “Two Ways to ‘Love’” (pp. 75-76)

Closing Prayer Time

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller – Chp 3 – The Essence of Marriage


Opening Prayer

Ice Breaker

Resting in the Text:  Ephesians 5:18-33 (p. 19 of The Meaning of Marriage)

Discussion Questions:

  1. One of the key issues in Chapter 3 is the difference between viewing marriage as a covenant (where the good of the relationship takes precedence over the needs of the individual) or as a consumer relationship (where the wants and needs of the individual take precedence over the good of the relationship) (80-82).  How would a marriage where the husband and wife view their relationship as a covenant be different from a marriage where the husband and wife view their marriage as a consumer relationship?
  2. How do you define love? Is love an emotion or is it an action? How does our definition of love make a difference in marriage over the long term?
  3. People often question the value of marriage when they say, “I don’t need a piece of paper to love someone.”  But marriage makes a huge difference to a relationship and creates an environment for love to grow and mature in a way that cohabitating never can.  How can a love relationship between a man and a woman be enhanced by…the legal aspects of marriage (84-86)?…the promise of future love given in marriage (86-89)?…the vow of commitment given in marriage (89-92)?…the sanctuary of trust created by marriage (92-94)?
  4. Read the paragraph in the middle of page 106 which begins, “So when someone says,…”
  5. It is commonly thought that love, and passionate love in particular, is diminished and perhaps extinguished altogether by any thought of obligation or commitment (84-85).  In other words, love is a feeling that arises spontaneously.  In opposition to this view, Timothy Keller writes, “So if your definition of ‘love’ stresses affectionate feelings more than unselfish actions, you will cripple your ability to maintain and grow strong love relationships. On the other hand, if you stress the action of love over the feeling, you enhance and establish the feeling.  That is one of the secrets of living life, as well as of marriage” (100).  What do you think about Keller’s statement? What would a marriage look like when the action of love is stressed over and above affectionate feelings?
  6. What is the essence of marriage?
  7. Read beginning with the paragraph that starts at the bottom of page 107 with, “Think, for a moment, how different a parent’s relationship is with a child….” to the end of chapter 3.

Closing Prayer Time

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller – Chp 4 – The Mission of Marriage


Opening Prayer

Ice Breaker

Resting in the Text:  Ephesians 5:18-33 (p. 19 of The Meaning of Marriage)

Discussion Questions:

  1. As he seeks, in this chapter, to explain the purpose of marriage, Timothy Keller writes, “The Bible’s answer to this question [what is the purpose of marriage] starts with the principle that marriage is a friendship” (110).  Later he writes, “There are two features of a real friendship—constancy and transparency” (112).  Describe what transparency and constancy look like in a marriage where a husband and wife are truly friends.
  2. Timothy Keller tells us, “Friendship is only possible when there is a common vision and passion” (114).  How can two followers of Jesus be friends in a greater way than one or both are not?
  3. How does thinking of marriage as a union of two best friends supersede both western views of marriage, which emphasize romance and sex, and traditional views of marriage, which see it as a way to enhance social status and security (117-118)?
  4. Keller asks, “What, then, is marriage for?  It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.  The common horizon husband and wife look toward is the Throne, and the holy, spotless, and blameless nature we will have.  I can think of no more powerful common horizon than that, and that is why putting a Christian friendship at the heart of a marriage relationship can lift it to a level that no other vision for marriage approaches” (120-121). How can a husband and a wife encourage each other in sharing this Great Horizon?
  5. Keller describes a marriage between two people both looking forward to the Great Horizon in this way, “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.  Each spouse then should give him- or herself to be a vehicle for that work and envision the day that you will stand together before God, seeing each other presented in spotless beauty and glory” (121).  If you are married, describe what great thing is Jesus doing in the life of your mate through the Word, the gospel?
  6. If you are single, which is better:  to see if a relationship with a good friend of the opposite sex could turn into a romantic relationship, or to pursue a romantic relationship with a person who you would never really consider for a friend?
  7. What are some examples of pseudo-spouses (127-130)?  What impact can a pseudo-spouse have on a marriage?
  8. Keller writes, “Marriage has the power to set the course of your life as a whole” (131).  What are some examples of how the strength or weakness of a person’s marriage can affect whether they have strength or weakness as they make their way in the world?  Why does marriage have that kind of power?

Read beginning with the paragraph that starts at the bottom of page 132 with, “Is all this a lot of work?…” to the end of chapter 4.

Closing Prayer Time

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller – Chp 5 – Loving the Stranger


Opening Prayer

Ice Breaker

Resting in the Text:  Ephesians 5:18-33 (p. 19 of The Meaning of Marriage)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the three powers inherent in marriage (136)?  Why must we accept and use them all?
  2. Timothy Keller writes, “When you get married, your spouse is a big truck driving right through your heart.  Marriage brings out the worst in you.  It doesn’t create your weaknesses (though you may blame your spouse for your blow-ups)—it reveals them” (139).  What do you think of this statement?
  3. In reference to the power of truth in marriage, Keller states, “Marriage show you a realistic, unflattering picture of who you are and then takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to pay attention to it” (140).  How can this help us?
  4. When disillusionment about the marriage sets in, married people may think that they need to find someone better than their current spouse.  In  response, Keller writes, “But the great thing about the model of Christian marriage we are presenting here is that when you envision the “Someone better,” you can think of the future version of the person to whom you are already married” (144).  What can help someone to distinguish between the ugly dross in their spouse’s life and the beautiful person God is forming them to be?
  5. Keller defines the power of love in marriage as “…an unmatched power to affirm you and heal you of the deepest wounds and hurts of your life” (146).  Can you think of an example of the difference made by the healing and affirming power of love in a marriage relationship?
  6. Dr. Les and Leslie Parrott talk about the impact of Unspoken Rules (which come from our family of origin) and Unconscious Roles (or role expectations, which also come from our family of origin).  These are similar to what Timothy Keller was writing about in the “Love Me—No, You Love Me” section in pages 149-152.  Can you give an example of how Unspoken Rules and Unconscious Roles have impacted a marriage relationship?
  7. If you are married, do you know your spouse’s two main love languages?  If so, what are they?
  8. Keller writes, “…at first love sweeps you up involuntarily, but eventually love is a deliberate choice.  It will seem mechanical at first… but if both spouses do it together, eventually the experience of being loved richly and well will sweeten their lives” (157).  What are your thoughts about how the author defines love?
  9. Keller says that, “…it takes deep humility and yet profound joy and confidence…” to hold the power of truth and the power of love together in a marriage relationship.  Where does this power of grace come from?
  10. Read beginning with the paragraph that starts at the middle of page 168 with, “Here is why you can say to your spouse who has wronged you… ” to the end of chapter 5.

Closing Prayer Time

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller – Chp 6 – Embracing the Other


Opening Prayer

Ice Breaker

Resting in the Text:  Ephesians 5:18-33 (p. 19 of The Meaning of Marriage)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Author Kathy Keller writes, “Male and female are ‘like opposite’ to one another.  They are like two pieces of a puzzle that fit together because they are not exactly alike or randomly different, but they are differentiated such that together they can create a complete whole.  Each sex is gifted for different steps in the Great Dance” (174).  How would you describe what she means in your own words?
  2. She continues, “Genesis 3 recounts the Fall, in which both man and woman sin against God and are expelled from the Garden of Eden. We immediately see the catastrophic change in the unity between man and woman.  The air is filled with blame shifting, finger pointing, and accusation.  Rather than their Otherness becoming a source of completion, it becomes an occasion for oppression and exploitation. The woman remains dependent and desirous of her husband, but it turns into an idolatrous desire, and his protection and love become a selfish lust and exploitation” (174). How would you describe a situation where a married couple’s Otherness “…becomes an occasion for oppression and exploitation”?
  3. Have someone read Philippians 2:5-11 aloud.  How does Jesus’ submission help us to submit to the Other?
  4. On pages 175-6, Kathy describes the “dance of the Trinity” a dance that “[m]ale and female are invited to mirror and reflect…[in] loving, self-sacrificing authority and loving, courageous submission” (176).  What do you think about the dance of the Trinity?  What would it be like for a husband and wife to mirror and reflect that dance?
  5. How do Jesus’ definitions of authority and leadership differ from the world’s definitions?  What difference do Jesus’ definitions make?
  6. Kathy Keller defines the biblical role of a husband as “…that of savior, a servant-leader, who uses his authority and power to express a love that doesn’t even stop at dying for the beloved” (178).  Women, how do feel about the thought of submitting to a husband who loves you in that way?  Men, would you, with God’s help, be willing to commit to loving your wife (or future wife) in that way?
  7. Kathy Keller says that, generally speaking, men have the “sending” gift of independence and women have the “receiving” gift of interdependence (180).  What are some ways that each of these gifts is a blessing from God?  What are two ways that each of these gifts can be turned into sin?
  8. Embracing the Other sometimes means more than embracing someone who is different.  In the midst of conflict rooted in gender differences, it can mean embracing qualities in the Other that make no sense to us and then we attribute a moral quality to those traits (i.e. they are wrong and bad) (182-3).  In situations like this how does Christ’s embrace of us sinners help us embrace the Other?
  9. Kathy tells us, “Only try this at home or within the community of believers, the church.  It is only safe for us sinners to attempt to rescue our royal heritage and our creation gifts of gender roles where resources such as repentance and forgiveness can be (and very often will need to be) accessed” (185).  What do you think of complementary gender roles?  What are your thoughts about Kathy’s position that they should be applied only in the church or at home?
  10. What are the benefits of complementary gender roles in a marriage?

As the discussion time comes to a close, have someone read aloud the paragraph that begins on the bottom of page 189 with, “Remember, this person is utterly unlike you…”

Closing Prayer Time

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller – Chp 7 – Singleness and Marriage


Opening Prayer

Ice Breaker

Resting in the Text:  Ephesians 5:18-33 (p. 19 of The Meaning of Marriage)

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Early in this chapter, Timothy Keller writes, “…single people cannot live their lives well as singles without a balanced, informed view of marriage” (192).   What results if a single person does not have a “balanced informed view of marriage”?
  2. Explain the meaning of the concept “overlap of the ages” (193). What are the implications of the “overlap of the ages” for our lives in general and marriage in particular?
  3. How does “[t]he Christian gospel and hope of the future kingdom… [de-idolize] marriage” (195)?
  4. What are some ways that the western church communicates the misguided view that single adults are somehow less than married adults (196-7)?
  5. How is human marriage a foreshadowing of the “…Real Marriage that our souls need and the Real Family our hearts were made for” (197-8)?
  6. How can “Gospel beliefs and experience” help us to have a deeper bond with the brothers and sisters in Christ in our faith community than with our family of origin (199-201)?
  7.  Why do Christians see singleness as good (201)?  Why do we also consider seeking marriage to also be good?
  8. What practical advice does Timothy Keller give to those who are seeking marriage (207- 217)?

As the discussion time comes to a close, read aloud the last two paragraphs on the chapter, beginning in the middle of page 217 with, “In fact, I would suggest something further….”

Closing Prayer Time