In marriage, Tim and Darcy Kimmel say, love can only take you so far.
True, when we marry, we share vows of love, and genuine love is critical to the relationship between husband and wife. But there’s a missing ingredient—perhaps the most important ingredient—in many Christian marriages, and that’s grace, Tim told the 1,550 attendees at the annual Prestonwood Marriage Conference in January.
Using just a few props—balloons, a helium tank, and a deck of cards among them—Tim stalked the stage, talking, joking, quoting a key Scripture here and there, occasionally with Darcy at his side.
“I’m trying to frame the conversation and provide some common language for the discussion,” Tim explained before taking the stage, and once the Kimmels took the stage, they never veered from the core message of their book Grace Filled Marriage.
“What we tend to want to do is say, ‘Okay, I’m going to take the love that I have for God and share that, and that will be the kind of love I have for Darcy,’” Tim said. “That sounds great, doesn’t it? Except it’s a recipe for disaster because it’s still my love, and my love is limited.”
Love is an intrinsic part of anyone’s life—we seek it, we give it, we think of it as the core of our relationships.
But God’s grace to us and through us gives us what we need to be truly graceful toward our spouses.
“When we bring God’s grace to center stage, love can endure and get stronger,” Tim said. “We can treat each other the way God treats us. But you can’t do it without God—it’s supernatural!”
The Kimmels, who lead the Family Matters ministry in Scottsdale, Arizona, have four children, all grown now. But when the kids were younger, Darcy and Tim searched for books to help them raise their kids well.
Much of what they found were books built on “sin management,” Tim said, that seemed to be another term for legalism. They wanted something else.
“One day, Darcy said, ‘Tim, think about it: God is a parent. I wonder what we’d find if we studied God and His role as a parent in the Bible.’ Once she said that, we realized there is a theology of parenting and you don’t have to dig to find it.
“It’s through His grace. It’s about treating your kids the way God treats you. Why don’t we do the same thing?” he said.
That led to Grace Based Parenting. And if grace is at the center of the parent-child relationship, shouldn’t it be the critical element in spousal relationships, too?
The Kimmels began doing their research, reading some of the most popular books on Christian marriage.
“We looked at the standard books that unpack some verses—Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, 1 Corinthians 7—but we decided we weren’t going with any of those,” Tim said. “Smarter folks than us had already weighed in.
“People obeyed those passages, but I don’t think you’d want a marriage like that,” he said. “So we started looking at the grace that emanates from God’s heart through me.”
In Christianity, grace is giving someone something they desperately need but don’t necessarily deserve. The greatest example is Jesus at the Cross—the perfect, sinless Son of God taking on our sins and our punishment so that anyone who believes in Him will be saved and spend eternity with God in heaven.
He gave us grace.
God pours out His grace continuously. He forgives our sins. He blesses us and our families. When life overwhelms us, He carries us.
“So the question we had is why don’t you treat your spouse the way God treats His? He doesn’t control us, or browbeat us,” Tim said. “We need to look at our spouse through the lens of grace. He can help us look at our spouse that way, the way God does.”
Of course, we’re not God. Where He is selfless, we are selfish, even to our closest loved ones. We have an internal tally sheet, Tim said, keeping score on our spouse. Inevitably, there are times when we think they aren’t doing quite as much as we are, leading to anger, resentment, hurt feelings.
“This is the antithesis of the way God deals with us,” he said.
Tim and Darcy aren’t strangers to life in North Texas—they moved here just days after their marriage so Tim could study at Dallas Theological Seminary.
“It was basically our honeymoon,” Tim said. “We got married in Annapolis, Maryland, and we got here eight days later.”
Tim and Darcy Kimmel
Helping Christian families in their sometimes rocky walks with God has been their ministry from the beginning, and the opportunities still excite them decades later.
“The thing that lights me up is life transformation,” Tim said, “because that’s when the Holy Spirit shows up!”
Shawn Callander, Minister of Marriage and Family Life, said the feedback to this year’s conference has been incredibly positive, more than any other year he can recall.
“That night, people were posting their reactions on Facebook: ‘A great evening!’ ‘Marriages need more grace!’ ‘Show the Father’s love to your spouse as He shows His love to you. It’s unconditional!’”
Many Christians still struggle with legalism, Shawn said, even though the Bible is unmistakably clear.
“I think it goes back to Ephesians chapter 2—‘By grace you have been saved.’ That’s the whole premise of the Gospel right there. We’ve been saved through faith, a free gift of God, and not by works.
“It’s not something we can purchase or earn. It’s God reaching down from heaven, not us reaching up.”
Shawn said Grace Filled Marriage, a small-group video study expounding on Tim Kimmel’s teaching, begins Wednesday, February 8, from 6:45 to 7:45 p.m. in Room A109 at the Plano Campus. Register at prestonwood.org/midweek. And for couples struggling in their marriage, Prestonwood provides ministries including Mentors for Couples and Revitalize to help strengthen marriages.
“I think the couples in our church can really understand this concept and take hold of it,” he said. “If we can see our spouses through the lens of grace, that changes everything!”