“One Flesh”— A Union of Perfect Love and Perfect Submission

ByElder Enoch Ofori Jnr

(Sabbath, 3rd March, 2012)

"In the Beginning" God Created Marriage 

Today, ‘we’ are getting married.  Although only two of our number are getting married before God and His Church,  to the extent that scripture commands us to share in the joys and pain of one another (1 Cor. 12:25-27), we are in this together.  For both the married and the unmarried, today’s ceremony will have lessons for all.  

If you are already married, how pleasing is your marriage in the sight of God? If you are planning to tie the knot, what Biblical understanding do you need to have of the marriage that pleases and honours God?  

God is the author of marriage. Therefore, He alone has the right to define the nature of the marriage institution and the different roles each of the married partners should play for marriage to be the joy and blessing He intended it to be.   

In Matthew 19, the Master tells us plainly that  God planned a heterosexual, divorce-free, monogamous marriage for man from the beginning  when He created them "male and female" and further commanded that they unite and function in the marital bond as "one flesh" (vv 4-6). Any additions or modifications to this marital form violate the sanctity of marriage as God designed it and are therefore not of Him. The cause is human stubbornness (hard heartedness) in the face of God’s revealed will.  This includes not only divorce (vv. 7-8) but also polygamy which originated with Lamech, a self-confessed murderer and the great-great-great-grandson of Cain "who was of that wicked one" (Gen. 4:19, 23-24; 1 John 3:12). 

In the beginning, God created marriage to fill your life with love, joy and purpose.  But there are divine principles to observe for this to be realized. Are you ready to lend God an ear?  

Love like Christ, Submit like His Church

In Ephesians chapter 5, God uses the Apostle Paul to define more exactly the different roles and responsibilities He has assigned both husband and wife in the marriage institution. In the context of mutual submission "out of reverence for Christ" (v. 21 NLT), Paul teaches that Christ’s love for the Church and the Church’s submission to Christ epitomizes the respective roles and duties of the Christian husband and the Christian wife.  

The Wife was Created for her Husband

The apostle begins with wifely submission and rightly so (v. 22). Like other godly virtues, submission does not come naturally or easily to people; the natural tendency is to be domineering or at least be independent.  In fact, God did not originally instruct women to submit to their husbands. The submission of wives to their husbands came about as part of the judgment God pronounced on the first female, Eve, to wit, “he shall rule over you”, for the principal role she played in man’s disobedience to God and subsequent fall in Eden (Gen. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:14).

But here the Christian wife is told to consider her submission to her husband—not as punishment—but  as submission to Christ Himself, out of voluntary acceptance of her husband’s loving leadership, not out of coercion. And the reason is straightforward:  the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ, “the Saviour of the body”, is the Head of the Church (v. 23).

The point has been made unambiguously: as long as Christ remains the Head of the Church and the husband the head of the wife, it’s incumbent on Christian wives who fear the Lord to be submissive to their own wives “as to the Lord”!    

Although the subject is still wifely submission, wives are alerted to the fact that their husbands’ headship position is not devoid of responsibility in light of the reference to Christ, the head of the Church, as “the Saviour of the body” (which is the church). So husbands take your cue from Christ. Your headship of the family is not a titular position. Prove your worth as the head of your wife with deeds and sacrifices that will keep her safe and sound.

But how is the Christian wife to submit to her husband? How much ground should she give?

The answer is, “as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (v. 24).

The operative word is “in everything”, but it’s not about living in mortal fear of your husband as if you were his slave. The “submission” meant here is derived from the primary God-given role of the wife to be “a helper suitable” for her husband (Gen. 2:18 NASB), since “man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake” (1 Cor. 11:9 NASB).  Thus wifely submission must be expressed with care-giving and service coupled with reverence—that’s how all the holy women of old behaved towards their husbands, including Sarah who called her husband (Abraham) “lord” (1 Pet. 3:1-6).    

In Proverbs 31, we see the “virtuous woman” demonstrate submission to her husband with practical deeds. Her husband recognizes her invaluable role in his life and has complete trust in her intentions towards him (Prov. 31:10-12).

This godly woman is a diligent homemaker. Eschewing all laziness, she works with her hands and stocks up provisions for her household—even for the poor and needy—through prudent management of resources and wise investments (Prov. 31:13-22).     

A great part of the credit for her husband’s high social standing goes to her for both the moral and practical support she gives him. The result is that “her husband is known in the gates” (Prov. 31:23).

A woman of fine character in all aspects, the “virtuous woman” is not only prudent and versatile in industry (Prov. 31:24-25), but also speaks words of wisdom (Prov. 31:26). Her hard work and meticulous care for the family do not go unnoticed by her husband and children who heap praises on her (Prov. 31:27-29).

The excellent qualities of the “virtuous woman” are not common to all women but only to one who fears the LORD (Prov. 31:30). She needs not sing her own praises; the works of her hands speak of her worth as a wife and a mother (Prov. 31:31).

This is how to submit to your husband “in everything” so you will be his fitting helpmate. As a Christian wife who fears the Lord, don’t pretend to submit to your husband because of what you will get from him.  Serve him with heartfelt commitment. You might not even be used to serving others, but your husband is not just another—you are “one flesh” with him! Moreover, this submission to your husband is actually to the Lord Jesus Christ, your spiritual Head and Saviour. You cannot afford to displease Him.

So, submit to your husband as a God-fearing wife even if he’s hard-to-please—and God’s promise is that you will win in the end. The Apostle Peter exhorts Christian wives: “In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the Christian message, they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live 2 when they observe your pure, reverent lives” (1 Pet 3:1-2 HSCB).

The Husband was Created to Cherish his Wife

The apostle next deals with the husband’s principal role in marriage:  ‘husbands love your wives in emulation of Christ’s love for the Church, a love He demonstrated by sacrificing Himself for her (v. 25) for the purpose of sanctifying her after having already cleansed her “by the washing of water with the Word” (v. 26)—all for the grand purpose of presenting "to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish’" (v. 27).

 In short, Christ, out of His great love for the Church, made the ultimate sacrifice for her in order to bring her up to His standard of an ideal wife of His. He wanted a ‘wife’ He could be proud of!

Love your wife with a similar noble purpose. True love is demonstrated, which should entail sacrifices and hard work aimed at securing a better life for your wife, with whom you might now be struggling in life. In the final analysis, any sacrifices that result in the betterment of your wife redound to your own honour.

For Christian husbands, it’s high time you realized that the love you show your wives is an exercise in self-love, being an expression of love for your own bodies because "he who loves his wife loves himself" (v. 28)—a most natural, normal thing to do since "no one ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it" (v. 29).

But this is where we find many African husbands—in fact, the typical African husband—fall short. Whether out of ‘learned’ habit or cultural inhibition, it’s a well-known fact many African husbands—even as believers—find it difficult to truly bond with their wives. And many hardly express their love for their wives openly in words.

For the typical African man, his first loyalty is to his extended family (which is not bad in itself but need to be put into perspective); his wife is just an adjunct to his life. She is an outsider.

But this is not what God says. He says the man “shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). That is “one” in body, mind, and interests. These are not separate individuals, but ONE person! One soul!

In the absence of such an order in marriage, many an African marriage sadly descends into a kind of love-hate relationship in which two mutually suspicious individuals pretend to be married couples.  The man pretends to love his wife; and the wife pretends to serve him.  But both have only one object in staying married: what each will get out of the relationship from the possessions that have accrued to them in the course of the marriage and the children between them.

There is complete love lost between husband and wife; they only put up appearances as lovers. After all, when the lady was being married off by her family, one of the pieces of advice traditionally given her was that she should bring back riches to the family but pass on her debts to her husband.  Fully aware of this, the husband also keeps all his plans and activities close to his chest, and sometimes justifiably so—some of the ladies cannot be trusted with confidential information. They bare it all to their friends, creating problems for the man. Isn’t this why Micah 7:5 advises men: “Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms” (Micah 7:5 ESV)?

And it’s all because God’s prescription for a happy, successful marriage has been ignored. The married couple is not “one flesh”.  Strange as it is, the husband does not love his body as he should!      

But God insists it’s a most unnatural thing to do. For "no one ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it".  So how is the husband supposed to nourish and cherish his body, being his wife?

Ex. 21:10 gives the answer: the man is to “nourish and cherish” his ‘body’ by guaranteeing her food, clothing and conjugal rights. If as a husband you fail to provide these essentials out of laziness or ill-will, you have failed as a husband. You will have abdicated your God-given responsibilities as a husband expected to follow the example of Christ in His care for the Church. So husbands give proof of your love for your body (wife) by meeting her needs dutifully.  Work hard to provide for your family—it’s one proof that you are still in the faith: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8 ESV).        

Loving the one you love as yourself is the secret of Christ’s love for the Church and the basis on which He relates to the Church in love (29b), for "we [the church] are members of His body" (v. 30).  

Indeed it’s the (basic) principle behind the whole idea of marriage which makes a man and his wife "one flesh" (v. 31).

But in this lies the great spiritual significance of marriage—as symbolizing the love relationship between Christ and His church whereby He left His Father’s home in heaven to demonstrate His love for His bride, the church (v. 32; cp Gen. 2:21 & John 19:34)

In his conclusion, the apostle hammers home the point that Christ-like love and godly submission is the be-all and end-all of marriage. So see to practice it as a Christian husband and a Christian wife (v. 33).

As Christian husbands demonstrating practical love in marriage, you must not be “harsh” with your wives when they make their legitimate requests and demands (Col. 3:19). Moreover, you must recognize your wives as “the weaker vessel” and bear patiently with them so your prayers are not hindered (1 Pet. 3:7).

 For Christian wives practicing submission to their husbands, the same Apostle Paul instructed Titus to instruct the older women to teach the young women to be “be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Tit. 2:4-5).  This should be the status quo in the Christian home for peace and harmony to prevail. 

God help us all to enter marriage in the spirit of submission and true love. Congratulations to the newlyweds. Have a blissful, fruitful marriage in Jesus’ Name!