Service: Marriage Isn’t About You

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Introduction

“I do.” The most romantic, hope-filled climax of any wedding ceremony is when the bride and groom utter that two-word phrase, “I do,” that launches their life together. The whole ceremony builds to those vows of commitment, and the festivities to follow celebrate them. Such a rich, intimate relationship as marriage deserves the pomp and circumstance it often receives on the wedding day. Yet for all the attention the wedding gets, most married couples agree that in addition to their coordinated wedding attire they were also unknowingly wearing blinders. These invisible blinders shielded them from a full understanding of what was to come in the marriage relationship.

Most people come into marriage with a set of expectations. Sometimes verbalized but most often not, these expectations create a grid you and your spouse will use to evaluate the happiness and overall quality of your marriage. Your culture and experiences help to create, and to reinforce, these expectations. When these hopes are met, the facade of a happy life holds up. But inevitably the day will come when married life will not live up to your expectation. Maybe it will be over something small — like who should pay the bills and manage the household finances; or maybe it will be something weightier — like a job loss, a pornography addiction, unexpected medical expenses, or a child on the wrong track. In some form, reality will eventually disappoint your expectations for marriage. Because the future is unknown and the possibilities are endless, no quick fix (a date night, a budget, etc.) will ever be thorough or specific enough to help you through every circumstance. Marriages will need a constant reorientation to the meaning of marriage.

What if your marriage had a foundation that allowed it to flourish even, and maybe especially in, the disappointing spaces of life? The goal of this session is to sharpen your vision for such a life-giving foundation for your marriage.

Welcome: Opening Questions

What were some expectations you had (or have, if you are single) about what marriage should be like?

How have those expectations helped or hurt your understanding of marriage?

Video Presentation

Watch the video for Session 1: “Service: Marriage Isn’t about You.” Take notes on any ideas that stand out to you. Your discussion to follow will review and seek to apply the main ideas of the session.

Discussion

1. What from the video discussion resonated with you as key principles for marriage?

2. In the discussion Jeff asked the group, “Why is service so important to marriage?” Though counterintuitive, the Christian worldview says the key to building a happy and fulfilling marriage is through mutual sacrifice. How does the idea that it is “not about you” actually help you build a healthy marriage? How has selfishness worked against this idea in your marriage?

3. In the discussion, Tim said that marriage has both horizontal and vertical dimensions. The purpose of the horizontal dimension — our relationships with other people — is character change and community building. The vertical dimension — our relationship with Jesus — fuels us to serve our horizontal relationships. In what ways has your vertical relationship with Jesus affected your horizontal relationship with others?

4. What has helped you keep your relationship with God as the primary love relationship in your life? In what ways can your friends, spouse, and those in your community help you, and how can you help them?

5. Kristin said that if she only had the horizontal dimension and not the vertical in her marriage, she couldn’t “hold up under the burden of what Joe needs.” What are ways to make sure we are not expecting other people to meet the needs that only God can fulfill?

6. Toward the end of the discussion, Sam said he found the Christian approach to marriage to be “enviable.” How does the gospel offer an attractive foundation for marriage?

This is the secret — that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another. That when God invented marriage, He already had the saving work of Jesus in mind.

7. In the concluding remarks, Kathy summed up the Christian approach to marriage as “gospel reenactment.” That is, the interactions between the husband and wife are to serve as a dynamic retelling of the story of Christ’s love and sacrifice for the church.

In your own words, explain what the gospel is. (Use Ephesians 2:1-10 to guide you if necessary.)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. — Ephesians 2:1-10

How would you explain the phrase “gospel reenactment”?

8. Give an example of what gospel reenactment could look like in the regular weekly rhythms of your marriage. If you are not married, what could gospel reenactment look like in the key relationships in your life?

The Christian teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice.

Closing Prayer

Close your discussion by praying together as a group, asking with grace and humility for God’s help in applying what you’ve learned in this session.

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Your Turn

Come share your thoughts on Tim’s discussion group comments on our blog. We would love to hear from you about what the meaning of marriage is and how to be a person who serves.

Tim Keller

Timothy Keller is the founder and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Reason for God and The Prodigal God. He has also mentored young urban church planters and pastors in New York and other cities through Redeemer City to City, which has helped launch over 200 churches in 35 global cities to date.

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