The Spirit Filled Marriage 10: Leaving and Cleaving
Christian marriage is unique in so many ways. Christianity believes that marriage has an objective definition defined by God not man; that men and woman have defined, different and unchangeable roles; it believes in a definition of love that is Christlike and is therefore based on grace and costly self-sacrifice; it sees difficulties in marriage as good things that in the hands of God make us better people and not reasons for divorce; it sees marriage as more important than the people in it because it is an institution intended to display the gospel and the relationship that Christ has with His church, therefore divorce and adultery are high sins; but amongst these and other distinctives Christian marriage is unique because of its view of marriage as one flesh. Christian marriage is not merely a legal contract as secular governments see it. Marriage as a covenant before God is a legally binding arrangement more permanent than the contractual arrangement most governments offer. But there is something more, it is this more that Paul is talking about in Ephesians 5:28-32. The husband and wife become one flesh.
The notion of the husband and wife becoming one flesh is based on another profound unity, the unity of Christ with His bride, Paul tells us that the unity in marriage is based on the unity between Christ and His bride, v31-32, ‘”Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.’ Because of an ontological unity between Christ and His church there is a similar type of unity between man and wife. This unions transcends a mere legal union. We are one body with Christ by His Spirit, this transcends a mere legal relationship. Likewise there is a unity called one flesh that exists between husband and wife. What is this one flesh union?
Firstly, we must begin with Christ’s interpretation of the verses Paul quotes in Genesis, in Matt. 19:6, ‘So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”’ Jesus here tells us that God did a joining when the two become one flesh. Mal. 2:15 has some translation difficulties but seems to be saying the same thing, ‘Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.’ The one flesh union of a husband and wife is not merely a sexual union, but the God joined union when two people join in a marriage, for this reason an adulterous affair does not make a new one flesh marriage. Adultery seriously undermines the union because sexual intimacy is a part of it but not the whole of it.
Secondly, one flesh is describing the reunion of man’s rib back with the man so that Adam and Eve are not two individuals but one union. There is a fundamental change in their standing that they must now be treated as one and not two. This union means they are one home, one legal entity, one sexual unity, one financial entity; that they should be united in spiritual pursuits, of one mind and purpose.
Because of this reality of a one flesh union where the husband are no longer two but one, Paul compares the marriage union with our own union with our bodies, v28, ‘In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.’ Because of the union between husband and wife, to wound your spouse is to wound yourself. We cannot sin against our spouses without bringing about consequences for ourselves. We are no longer independent, we are one, just as we are one with our own bodies. And when our bodies give us pain, what do we do with them, do we amputate, do we punish that part of the body, no we nurture it, tend to it, we treat that part with deference, coddling it until it heals with balms and plasters. Self-harming is an unhealthy thing, we should not abuse our bodies or our wives. We can’t live as if we have no body and spouse is to act like a single person. This behaviour that we display towards other things that we are united to like our bodies implies responsibilities in marriage, v29-30, ‘For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.’
Christ does not hate His body the church but loved her with an everlasting love, and because of His love Christ both nourishes and cherishes us. In other words He is not only concerned with our physical needs, but also concerns Himself with having an intimate relationship with us. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives, they are to both nourish and cherish them. They are not merely to be concerned with ‘bed and board’ but with cherishing his wife. As we like to indulge not only our needs in the food we eat but cater to our favourite flavours, so we should love our wives and cater not only for needs but her pleasures and wants. As we protect our bodies from the cold or from injury we are to protect our wives. As we take measures with our health and fitness we are to guard our wives from infection and sickness. What appears to be the familiar commandment of loving your neighbour as yourself, when seen in light of the way in which Christ loves His body is transformed into something deeper and sacrificial.
This underlying unity implies much responsibility in marriage, we want to spend some time now looking at what has traditionally been called, leaving and cleaving.