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This type of relationship is both a mystery and a reality. Though we cannot fully understand what a one-flesh union means, we can functionally and faithfully participate in a one-flesh marriage while enjoying its benefits.
Biff is in his seventies now. He is sitting in his rocking chair in his living room. The fire in the fireplace is quietly burning. It is winter. The home is perfectly warm, though he is resting with a blanket draped over his lap, a quilt his wife made for him.
He is looking through a big glass window that provides a fantastic view of their backyard. A couple of birds are hopping from barren limb to barren limb. There is snow on the ground. Mable is in the kitchen.
Without asking, she enters the living room where Biff is sitting. She brings him a cup of hot chocolate. She “knew” that he was thinking about it. She carefully hands the warm cup to him and stands behind Biff with one hand on his shoulder. They are both looking out the window. Not a word has passed between them.
It is not that they do not talk to each other. Biff and Mable have filled their lives with decades of conversations. They love talking to each other, but sometimes there is an awareness that is deeper than words, a knowledge that is born out of a more in-depth communion (Romans 8:26).
At that moment in their living room, there was no need for words. Biff and Mable were one. Biff sips his hot chocolate while they both enjoy God’s creation (Psalm 19:1). There is a warmth in their home that is more rewarding than a winter’s fire (Ephesians 5:29). They are beautifully assimilated, united by a lifetime of memories that are silently passing between them. They have become what God intended them to be. They are one-flesh.
Then the man said, “This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:23-24).
Before two people make a one-flesh covenant (agreement) with God, they are two individuals belonging to different family units. At some point after the first time they met, they realized that being with each other was worth leaving their respective families to set up their own unique autonomous domestic empire. They married each other and became a family.
A family is not when a couple has children but when a couple is married. (The first family unit was Adam and Eve. They later added children to their family.) This newly formed family agreed they would honor, cherish, love, and serve each other until death separated their one-flesh union.
At the beginning of any marital covenant, the couple, for the most part, are two different entities. Though they are one flesh under God and before the world, they are not yet able to enjoy all the benefits of one flesh-ness fully. With time, grace, community, and intentionality, it will be possible for them to mature into a “God-husband-wife” harmonic union.
This concept is similar to our relationship with the Lord. After we are born again (John 3:7), we receive everything (2 Peter 1:3) we need to be Christlike (Ephesians 4:22-24). But the functional working out (Philippians 2:12) of the fullness that God intends for us to enjoy takes time to benefit from fully (2 Peter 3:18).
True one-flesh-ness is a lifelong journey. It does not happen all at once. From the couple’s first introduction to their future separation at death, their lives should reveal an ever-unfolding, incremental mystery as they navigate the contours of their lives together. The idea of living in a one-flesh marriage is like many petals on a flower that mature through time.
It is an assimilation of mind, body, soul, spirit, emotions, will, strengths, and weaknesses. Here are some of the goals a young couple moves toward as they begin to mature into one-flesh-ness. You could start each descriptor with, “We are one in…”
|Affection for God||Plans|
A man and woman are different in many ways, particularly as it pertains to their personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and gifts. To be one-flesh does not mean they are to be a carbon copy of each other. It means all of their positives/negatives and strengths/weaknesses blend into a unified, harmonic, God-centered, other-centered one.
What Adam was missing, Eve supplied. What Eve was missing, Adam provided. Like gears perfectly meshing into each other to make the machine function at an optimal level, the husband and wife mesh into each other so they can present a God-glorifying symmetry.
Being different does not have to displace unity. Because of the grace of God, our differences within the one-flesh union should create completeness and wholeness.
Paul talked about the tearing away of the one-flesh union. He said a person who does this hates his flesh. You can apply his teaching to either spouse. When one spouse does anything to hurt the other spouse, there is hating of the one-flesh union.
He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church because we are members of his body (Ephesians 5:29-30).
From Paul’s viewpoint, it made no sense for a spouse to hate the other spouse. You could illustrate this through the practice of cutting—a person who cuts his flesh. In today’s culture, it is common for many of our youth to cut themselves. They use sharp instruments like razors to mutilate their bodies.
They hate their flesh. Rather than seeing their bodies as a creation from the Lord (James 3:9-10), they devalue their bodies by mutilating them. When one spouse is angry, unkind, unforgiving, critical, or any other sinful attitude or practice toward their spouse, it is a version of self-mutilation.
The sinful spouse is defiling their flesh. Mutilating the flesh is bizarre and immoral behavior. I wonder how many spouses would be aghast toward cutters but do not see that they are doing their version of flesh cutting.
The mature Christian spouse understands the one-flesh dynamic in the marriage and is daily taking care of their body. The encroachments of sin are ever-present, which only elevates the couple’s scrutiny. Flesh lovers do not let sin cut away their one-flesh-ness.
Undealt with sin is the death knell to any marriage. Like sickness to the physical body, sin is a sickness in the marital union. Paul uses the language of nourishing and cherishing to expound on his point. To nourish is to grow, and to cherish is to warm. This concept is not all a couple can do for each other, but it does convey two proactive essentials that every marriage needs.
There is a real and measurable difference between two people who genuinely enjoy each other, and two people who do not have that gravitational pull that should be drawing them toward each other. Mature one-flesh-ness leaves a feeling of satisfaction when the spouses think about their relationship. It is not that the journey is over or that all they can do for each other is complete.
It is similar to the way we think about our relationship with Christ. We are not all that we should be or can be, but there are quiet confidence and internal rest that is ours because we are heading in the right direction.
To grow questions:
To warm questions:
You and your spouse began a process of coming together when you first met. That process is ongoing until you die. You have gone from being strangers to evolving into an image that looks like Christ and His church.
If you are not satisfied, it is because sin has come between you and your spouse. Typically, most (if not all) couples become married and have a weak understanding of the doctrine of sin. They do not plan for sin or factor their sinfulness into their marriage. It is similar to never factoring in the possibility of debt.
I think most couples realize sin will be part of their marriage, but they do not know what to do with it when it happens. They have no sin plan. Rather than fixing their dust-ups, many couples learn how to coexist. Their one-flesh assimilation process stops or it slows to a crawl. This hardship does not have to happen to you.
The first step is to own your role in what went wrong in the relationship. This step is crucial but missed too often. One of the worst things you can ever do in your marriage is to begin your restorative efforts by blaming the other person. If you want a restored marriage, start by assessing yourself.
If both spouses are mature enough to do this, the marriage will begin to redirect toward one-flesh-ness. If both spouses are not willing to take their souls to task by speaking honestly and transparently about the personal harm that they have brought to each other, the division between them will never go away. Let me illustrate with our physical bodies.
If part of my body were sick with no chance of healing, my whole body would be sick, and I would never be able to enjoy the full benefits of physical wholeness. This news would be hard for many spouses to hear, but I must say it: if one spouse is not willing to fully and humbly own their sinful contributions to the marriage, the marriage will never be able to enjoy the full benefits of one-flesh wholeness.
It would be better to know this truth now than to be forever hoping for something better while being disappointed daily because one spouse is not willing to come clean about their sinful participation in the marriage. At least you know what you have, and you are not living in false hope.
This kind of false hope will lead to all types of problems, which will only bring more evil to marriage. If you are the only one willing to work on your relationship, I appeal to you to find help. This journey is not a task to be done alone. If your spouse does not help you, find those who will, which should include your church, but if that is not an option, I appeal to you to join our community.
We are not a counseling site because we cannot provide counseling sessions for all the needed parties, but we will come alongside you. (Find counseling here.) We will give you community, friendship, prayer, and practical advice. We can help you. You will not be alone.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).