FamilyLife Today®

Planning and Planting

with Kathy Keller, Tim Keller | January 16, 2012
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Marriage is a lot like a garden. Whether there's rain or drought, it's going to take a lot of work. Pastor Tim Keller, along with his wife, Kathy, asks couples to consider why they got married and then reminds them that marriage's main purpose is to reenact the gospel by demonstrating sacrificial love.

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  • Marriage is a lot like a garden. Whether there's rain or drought, it's going to take a lot of work. Pastor Tim Keller, along with his wife, Kathy, asks couples to consider why they got married and then reminds them that marriage's main purpose is to reenact the gospel by demonstrating sacrificial love.

Marriage is a lot like a garden. Whether there’s rain or drought, it’s going to take a lot of work.

Planning and Planting

With Kathy Keller, Tim Keller
January 16, 2012
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Bob: Pastor Tim Keller thinks most of us are not thinking rightly about marriage.

Tim:  Modern people basically have a consumer attitude toward marriage:  “The purpose of this marriage is to make me happy.”  But if you understand the purpose of marriage as helping your spouse to his or her future glory-self through sacrificial service, then the language of your heart is, “I will be the spouse I ought to be, whether you are being the spouse you ought to be or not because Jesus gave me spousal love like that.  He loved me, not because I was lovely, but in order to make me lovely; and I’m going to do that for you.”

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 16th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We’ll hear from Tim and Kathy Keller today about how we grow, and tend, and cultivate a healthy marriage.   Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  One of the presents I gave to all of my children this year for Christmas is the new book from Tim and Kathy Keller about marriage.  Now, two of my kids are married; one of my children is engaged; and I have two sons who don’t have anything on the horizon.  For at least one of them, that’s a good thing at this point.  (Laughter)

Dennis:  Because he’s younger.

Bob:  Because he’s younger; that’s right.  There we go.  But I thought, “I don’t care what stage they’re in—whether they’re in marriage, thinking about marriage, or it’s not on the horizon yet—they need to be reading a book like the one that Tim and Kathy Keller have written.

Dennis:  They do.  Whether it’s marriage preparation, or making a good marriage better, or taking a marriage that’s struggling and needs a tune-up—needs some attention given to it—all of us need to take time to really focus on and really revisit, if not for the first time—learn about the blueprints for building your marriage and family.

Bob:  In fact, this week we’re doing something very special for FamilyLife Today listeners because our Weekend to Remember ® marriage getaways are about to kick off here in another couple of weeks.  We’re hoping that our FamilyLife Today listeners will do a little marriage maintenance.  Some of them have never been to a Weekend to Remember.

Dennis:  I cannot believe that, honestly.

Bob:  It’s true!

Dennis:  I run into listeners every once in a while and I’ll say, “Have you been to the Weekend to Remember?”  They’ll go—they’ll kind of grimace and they’ll look—because they are core listeners—they’ve been listening for several years—

Bob:  And then they say, “We’ve been meaning to”—

Dennis:  “Oh, we want to go!  We want to go!”

Bob:  “One of these days.”

Dennis:  Hey, trust me.  We’ve been doing these things since 1976.  We know how to do an event that’s fun, that’s entertaining, and that will transform your life and take a good marriage—even a great marriage—and help it improve and strengthen it.   For an engaged couple, I’m telling you what—if you’re looking for a deal, the offer that we’re about to make to you this week only is the deal to give as a wedding gift to a couple who are about to get married.

Bob:  Well, the offer we make all of the time is, “If you come and for any reason want your registration fee refunded, we’ll give it back to you.”  It’s an unconditional money-back guarantee; so you can’t lose.  This week, your registration fee is cut in half.  If you sign up to come to a Weekend to Remember and identify yourself as a listener to FamilyLife Today, your spouse comes free; or your fiancé comes for free; or just somebody you met out on the street and you want to bring them in, they’ll come for free.  (Laughter)

It’s a buy one, get one free kind of situation; and it’s this week only.  Here’s how you have to do it.  If you want to take advantage of it, you should go online at because all of the information is there.  Click the link that says, “Weekend to Remember”.  You’ll find when it’s going to be in a city near where you live and what weekend—so you can look at dates, and locations, and all of that. 

Once you’re ready, all you have to do is either register online—again, at  You identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener by typing “BOB” in the promo code box.  That way we’ll know.  I had them use my name because it’s easier to spell than yours.  “B-O-B”, and you can spell it backwards or forwards; or you call 1-800-FL-TODAY and just say, “I listen to FamilyLife Today.  I heard about the special offer.”  It’s this week only; it’s for FamilyLife Today listeners.  Buy one registration and you get a second registration at no cost.  Then, you’re all signed up and you’re ready to go to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. 

Dennis:  Here’s what I want to say to our listeners, “What, in the course of a year, do you do that really strengthens and builds into your marriage and family?”  I’m here to tell you that we’ve been doing these conferences since 1976, and we know how to put on a conference that is going to give you training in the key areas of marriage and of life.  This is a great investment in your marriage!  So the next time I run into you, or Bob does, you’re not going to be kicking the stone on the sidewalk and apologizing.  You’re going to say, “You know what?  We’ve been!  It was everything you said it was!”

Bob:  Now people are going to run and hide when they see us coming!  (Laughter)

Bob:  1-800-FL-TODAY is the number to call to register.  Again, just identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener.  If you have questions or want to know from one of our staff about when it’s going to be where, just call 1-800-FL-TODAY; or go online at and click the link to the Weekend to Remember and save a little money—this week only—as a FamilyLife Today listener.  Again, it is 1-800-FL-TODAY; and the website is

Now, we’re going to hear the first part of a message on marriage today.  I mentioned Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book because the message we’re going to hear (this goes back to before the book was written) is really a very helpful and, I think, very practical message about issues couples face in marriage.

Dennis:  Yes, the name of the book is The Meaning of Marriage:  Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.  You know, that’s a mouthful.  We need to make commitments that make marriage go the distance, but we need to have the wisdom of God to make good on those promises that we make.

Tim and Kathy Keller moved to New York City and started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in 1989.  They have three sons.  They have been very prolific as writers and as speakers.  They are really a trusted voice, as a couple, to shoot straight and be real; but at the same time, give you a noble picture of what the true meaning of marriage is all about.

Bob:  They gathered a group of people together at their church.  This was in an evening; it was not a morning sermon.  They said, “Let’s just talk about the realities of marriage.”  They kind of went back and forth sharing, and we thought it was a great message—so we’re going to hear Part One of that message right now.  Here are Tim and Kathy Keller.

Tim:  [Recorded message]  We want to be practical tonight—more practical than we usually can be in general teaching or sermons; but at the same time, we want to be comprehensive.  We want to drill down quickly into eight areas—all of which are areas that need attention if you’re going to cultivate a healthy marriage.  The discipline for us is to be practical, to be comprehensive—which means we have to be very pithy and just give you just a few minutes at the most on each one of these areas.

Now, all you have here, by the way, is an overview of an image that we would like to use tonight in order to pull together all of the different areas that we think are going to need attention if you’re going to build a healthy marriage.  The image is the image of cultivating a garden—cultivating a garden.

So, for example, in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul talks about the church.  Now a church is a complex of relationships.  Paul says, “I planted the seed; Apollos watered it; but God made it grow.  The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to their own labor.  For we are God’s workers and you are God’s field.” 

See, a church is likened to a garden; literally the Greek word there means a “cultivated field.”  That’s important to see because a gardener needs a number of skills.  You have to plant—you have to break up the ground and put in the seed.  You’ve got to water; you’ve got to fertilize; you’ve got to weed; you’ve got to prune.  Eventually, you eat the fruit of your labors.  But the most important thing to see is that gardens take an enormous amount of work (if you’ve ever run one).  They take, not only an enormous amount of work, but constant attention.  You generally can’t even go a day without getting out into your garden, or it gets away from you.  A marriage is very much a complex relationship, just like a garden.

Here is my main point, by way of an introduction:  Your marriage is not like sod that you buy, and bring home, and roll out, ready to walk on.  Your marriage is not like flowers that you buy at the store and then you come home and put them on your coffee table.  Your marriage is not like FreshDirect®, which is delivered to your door; and then two minutes in your microwave, and there it is.

Your marriage is a garden.  The difference between the marriage you can and should have—the beautiful marriage you can and should have—the fruitful marriage you can and should have—is as far removed from the marriage you start with as an apple tree is removed from the apple seed—as a bare garden is removed from a fruitful garden.  It’s a long way from seed to the apple tree—a long way.  You shouldn’t get into your marriage expecting that, “If you have just the right spouse—if you’ve found just the right person—Bingo!  You immediately begin to live this happy and fulfilling life.”

Instead, when you look at the problems you’re having, when you look at how much worse your spouse is flawed are than you thought they were when you got married, when you look at the conflicts that you are sort of stuck in, when you look at how much criticism you’re getting from your spouse, the danger is for you to think, “The problem is this particular person that I’m married to.”

When, actually, the problem is marriage—the problem is that marriage is a garden.  It takes an enormous amount of skill; it takes an enormous amount of attention.  You’ve got to be in it all of the time.  You can’t be mad because the garden doesn’t just produce produce.  You can’t just plant it and come back in three months and expect it to be there.  Now, men in particular, are like that.  If they feel like it takes a tremendous amount of work (“We always have to be talking about our marriage and working on our marriage”), that there’s something wrong. 

That’s not the way it is with a garden.  You can’t just plant it, and come back in three months, and expect there to be something there.  Not only that, by the way:  gardens take work, no matter what the weather.  If there’s a lot of rain, you’ve got to be out there weeding all of the time or nothing will come up.  If there’s no rain or if it’s really, really dry, you’ve got to get out there and do your own watering. 

If your life is going well—financially, things are going well; your children are doing well; everything is going well—there’s all kinds of attention you’ve got to give to your marriage, or it’s going to get squeezed out by all of your success.  Or if troubles are happening, and there are financial troubles, and there are children troubles, and there are all kinds of troubles, your marriage is going to need an enormous amount of watering and attention; or it’s going to atrophy.

Basically, the image is that marriage is like a garden.  It’s going to take all of the work of a garden.  Here are the four areas we want to cover:  “Planning and Planting”,

“Fertilizing and Watering”, “Weeding and Pruning”, “Harvesting and Enjoying”.

The first couple of topics are going to take a little longer than the last ones, but we want to cover them all.  Ready?   I get the first one, and then Kathy.  We’ll go back and forth; and occasionally, she’ll do one back-to-back as well. 

“Planning and Planting.”  Kathy and I are defining that as “laying the foundation”, which means knowing why you are married.  “Why did you get married?” “What’s the whole point of marriage?”  And then, “Who are you in the marriage?”  That’s the “roles” thing.

Let me start with the purpose.  “Why did you get married?”  “What is the purpose of marriage?”  Now, ancient cultures said the purpose of marriage is the security and status of your family.  You married a person who helped the security and status of your family.  That’s why you got married.  The idea of marrying for love is a fairly late idea—it comes in during the Middle Ages.  Before the Middle Ages, you marry someone who helps your family’s security and status—period. 

Modern people marry for happiness.  In modern culture, we’re told that the purpose of marriage is to be happy.  “I’m marrying somebody who’s going to make me happy.”  Biblically, both of those approaches are naïve.  They’re naïve because, I believe that, the Bible says that the purpose of marriage (and I wrote it down on this piece of paper here) is Gospel reenactment. 

Why?  Well, it says in Ephesians 5, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the Word, so as to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything of that kind so that she may be holy and without blemish.”

Think of the Gospel.  Jesus sees us sort of stuck in our human condition.  So what He does is—He comes into our lives and lays Himself out in sacrificial love.  As a result, now, we’re on a journey with Him to a future perfection—to a future glory-self.  You see, Jesus saw us not even close to being the persons that we were designed to be by God.  He comes in with sacrificial love and frees us up, so now we’re on a journey to our future glory-self.  That’s the purpose of marriage—to reenact the Gospel.  It says so in Ephesians 5.

Let me put it like this:  The purpose of marriage is to help your spouse become his or her future glory-self through sacrificial service.  The purpose of marriage is to help your spouse become his or her future glory-self through sacrificial service.  Therefore, it means basically that love is an action first and a feeling second.  The most important thing for the success of your marriage is to recognize that you have to develop a servant-mindset or a ministry-mindset.

I’ll put it to you like this:  Modern people basically have a consumer attitude toward marriage:  “The purpose of this marriage is to make me happy.”  The basic language of the heart goes like this, “I’ll be the spouse I ought to be if and to the degree that you’re the spouse you ought to be.”  But if you’re in a Gospel reenactment—if you understand the purpose of marriage as helping your spouse to his or her future glory-self through sacrificial service, then the language of your heart is, “I will be the spouse I ought to be whether you are being the spouse you ought to be or not because Jesus gave me spousal love like that.  He loved me, not because I was lovely, but in order to make me lovely; and I’m going to do that for you.”  That’s so fundamental! 

You can ask me questions about—there are clarifications I’ve got to make, and we will make them.  For example, this does not mean that marriage should be one way.  This does not mean that it’s okay for you to do all of the sacrificing and the other person be completely selfish, and you are just going to serve that person.  You know why?—that’s not ministry-mindset.  It’s so incredibly selfish to let your spouse live a selfish life.  That is the worst thing for them!  It’s the most unloving thing possible to make it easy for someone to sin against you. 

A person with a ministry-mindset, who is really saying, “I’m going to bring this person—my spouse—to the full potential that God has given them.  I want to participate in what God is trying to do in their life.”  If you have a ministry-mindset, you will confront.  You will not just say it’s okay for them to be selfish.  That’s the important thing.

Last thing on this—because then I’m going to turn it over to Kathy—what this really means, again, is that love is primarily an action before it’s a feeling.  I would say most marriages go like this:  You start because you fall in love (that’s how you get married).  By and large, you love the beauty of the person.  There’s something about the person that is attractive.  Then you get married, with all of this feeling of love; and it won’t be long after that a disillusionment sets in because you’ll find that the greatness that you loved in that person is more embryonic than you thought.  It’s more undeveloped than you thought.  It’s going to take more watering, and fertilizing, and pruning, and weeding than you thought. 

At that point, you can either go the consumer-way, which is to say, “Okay, this person’s not being the spouse he should be or she should be, then I’m not going to be.  I’m going to wait for them to—”

Or you can say, “I’m going to lay myself out for you; and I’m going to be the spouse I promised to be, whether you are or not.”  Here’s what happens then—the more you act loving when you don’t feel loving, the more your feelings of love will grow.  The more you act unloving when you feel unloving, the more you fail to serve and love when you don’t like the person—the more that’s going to spiral down.  The less you act loving, less you feel loving; less you feel loving, less you act loving; and on and on until it’s gone.  That’s the most important thing for you to know.

Bob:  [Studio]  Well, we’ve been listening to the first part of a message from Tim and Kathy Keller about what’s important in marriage; and we’re going to hear more of that message as we continue this week. 

That says easy but does hard—what he just said; you know?

Dennis:  Exactly.

Bob:  The more you don’t feel it, but you act it—I’m thinking, “Yes, okay. I get it; but it’s not always easy to do that!”

Dennis:  No, it isn’t.  Barbara and I have some areas around our home that we planted.  Occasionally, because of the ministry, we’ll have to leave for an extended period of time; and we’ll be gone enough days that when we come back, the nutgrass has taken over our flower beds.  You could have a small nuclear device, and you could not get rid of nutgrass.  (Laughter)

Now, that’s one thing to say for a garden that is neglected for a few weeks.  If you neglect a marriage for a few weeks, a few months, a few years—you’re going to reap what you’ve been sowing or what you’ve allowed to have sown in your marriage.  I think the message that Tim and Kathy are communicating, both through their book and through this message they gave at Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, is that as married couples, we need to pay attention to our marriage and make sure we’re investing and planting the right kind of stuff. 

Bob, that’s why we need to get couples to go to the Weekend to Remember.  The Weekend to Remember is like passing out seed packets for your marriage—for you to plant all kinds of healthy fruit trees, and flowers, and vegetables that are all going to be healthy for you.  Come to this conference and get the training, get equipped, and then reap the benefits—the fruit, for years to come. 

Bob:  A lot of our listeners have heard that you ought to have a date night together.  You know, “If you’re a married couple, you ought to have a date night once a week or twice a month or whatever.  You ought to have date nights.”  But I tell couples, in addition to your date nights, you ought to figure out at least one weekend a year where you do something for your marriage.

Dennis:  Yes.

Bob:  Maybe it’s just the two of you getting away.  Maybe your church does something, but you ought to just—like you change the oil—you ought to, at least once a year, have a weekend where somebody else watches the kids.  It’s just the two of you, and you do something for your marriage.

We’re about to kick off our spring season of Weekend to Remember marriage getaways; and this week, we’re inviting FamilyLife Today listeners to go online and find out when the conference is going to be in a city near where you live or a city you’d like to go to on a weekend that works for you.  If you sign up this week and identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener—you buy one registration, the second registration is free.  You pay for yourself and your spouse comes at no additional cost. 

Go online at and click on the icon that says, “Weekend to Remember” marriage getaway, to get more information about our schedule of events this spring.  Then, when you sign up, if you’re signing up online, be sure to type my name.  Type “BOB” in the promo code box on the registration form.  That way, we’ll know you’re a listener; and you’ll get the special offer. 

Or, if you call with questions or to register, just mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today and you heard about the special offer.  Again, if you buy one registration, you get a second one at no cost.  Keep in mind that the registration fee comes with a money-back guarantee.  So if for any reason, you’re not satisfied with the event, you’ll get your registration fee back, with no questions asked. 

We really want you to come and join us for one of these upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaways.  Call 1-800-FL-TODAY or go online at to register. 

Let me also remind you that we have copies of Tim and Kathy Keller’s book called The Meaning of Marriage.  It’s available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  There’s more information about the book online at, as well.  Again, the title is The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller.  Go to for more information.

Then, I also want to let you know about something special that we’re trying to do this spring.  We’re aware that many of our U.S. servicemen and women are returning home after a long deployment.  Re-entry back into a marriage and a family can sometimes be rocky; so we have established a scholarship fund for servicemen and women and their spouses to attend one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaways.  We’re asking you to make a donation to that scholarship fund this week.

Go to and click on the link that says, “Finally Home to Family”.  Make a donation to help sponsor a couple to attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.  If you’d like to make a donation to the fund via text message, type the word “HOME”, H-O-M-E, and text it to the number 28950.  That’s the word “HOME.”  Text it to 28950.  You’ll receive instructions on how to make a donation via text messaging.  We appreciate your support of our servicemen and women through this scholarship fund.

We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to hear more from Tim and Kathy Keller.  In fact, tomorrow we’re going to hear primarily from Kathy, talking about issues related to headship and submission and—how does a wife understands all of that?  We’ll hear her thoughts on that tomorrow; hope you can be here.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine.  We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.


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Episodes in this Series

Biblical Foundation For Marriage Day 3
Making a Marriage Work
with Kathy Keller, Tim Keller January 18, 2012
What does it take to make a marriage really work?
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Biblical Foundation For Marriage Day 2
Headship and Submission
with Kathy Keller, Tim Keller January 17, 2012
Did God make a husband and wife equal?
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