Wednesday, March 9, 2011

One flesh

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him...” So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Genesis 2:18, 21-25

What a beautiful passage of Scripture this is! It is the wellspring of the Christian understanding of marriage. It tells us that the love relationship we were created for is a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman. It reveals to us that this relationship was meant to be so strong that it would not be broken in this life (see Jesus' comments in Matthew 19:6). And it shows us that women and men though equal are different. In this one passage we hit upon truth relating to sex, sexual orientation, marriage, divorce, and gender issues. It is a hotbed of dispute in complete opposition to the way in which our world chooses to live. So much so that I considered passing over it. I do not desire to stir up dissension, and yet I know that "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). Thus, I must teach even (and especially) those parts of Scripture that cut against the grain of our culture. 

To plumb the depths of this passage exhaustively would be beyond the scope of this blog. Instead, I will draw out several implications for marriage. First, notice that marriage before God is a bringing together of two distinct and different people to become one flesh. God made woman from man so that this would be possible both physically and, in my opinion, emotionally as well. This does not mean that either spouse's identity should be absorbed into the other. Each remains a distinct person with rights and passions, yet they are put together in a way that makes them more whole, more themselves than they were before. In the passage God says that it is not good for Adam to be alone. He needed a helper. The ESV Study Bible notes that the Hebrew word for "helper" in this passage ('ezer) means "one who supplies strength in the area that is lacking in the helped." And goes on to say that "the term does not imply that the helper is either stronger or weaker than the one helped...but complements him." So marriage is the bringing together of two people who complement one another and who by so doing make a new whole that is greater and more complete than either part was on its own.

Second, we see that woman is fundamentally different from man and that man is fundamentally different from woman. This shows up elsewhere in Scripture as men and women are expected to fulfill different roles before the Lord. In Ephesians 5 men are commanded to love their wives with the same self-sacrificing love with which Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her; women are called to submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord. In I Timothy 3 women are prohibited from teaching or exercising authority over men. In I Peter 3 husbands are warned to be considerate and treat their wives with respect lest their prayers be hindered. For many today this smacks of sexism. They believe that if men and women have different roles then they are not truly equal in worth.

God's nature tells us otherwise. As Christians we believe that God is three Persons though one God. These three persons are equal in nature and power. They are known as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Yet throughout Scripture we find the Son submitting to the Father's will (cf. John 3:16-17, 6:38, 8:28-29, & Acts 2:23) and the Spirit submitting to the will of both the Father and the Son (John 15:26 & 16:12-14). Thus, we see in the Trinity equality in personhood with distinction in roles. God's nature itself serves as an example of a holy submission that does not detract from value of the person. Thus Philippians 2:5-8 says, "Christ, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing, by taking on the very nature of a becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!"

Christ freely chose to humble himself under the Father's leadership, to obey Him, even though He was equal with God the Father. And He is no less God because of that submission. It is the same with us as we humble ourselves. I humble myself under the authority and leadership of my pastor. Even though I know we were created equal in worth, I know that the Lord has given us complementary roles to fulfill in this life and so I submit to Him. So also in marriage the wife is called to complement her husband in submission- she is not to be his slave, or his property, nor is she to be mistreated or ordered around. Remember the husband is called not merely to leadership but to self-sacrificing leadership like that of Christ. Matthew Henry, the late seventeenth century Puritan, puts it nicely. "The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved" (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible). Exactly how this looks in everyday life is in some measure left to each couple to work out in their marriage.

In closing let me leave you with this thought. In marriage as in life "do not think of yourself more highly than you ought" (Romans 12:3) but "serve one another humbly in love" (Galatians 5:13).

For further reading...

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