August 13, 2021 - One Flesh - A Reflection on Matthew 19:3-12

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

I had a couple who came to me for counseling a few years ago, and all they spoke about in the entire hour they spent with me was money. The man talked about “his” money, and the woman talked about “her” money, and as they fought about it right in front of me, I just shook my head in sorrow. However, I obtained an important insight about the root cause of problems in marriages through this session. It wasn’t money that was the issue; it was egotism. The married man and woman wanted to retain their individuality.

What’s wrong with that, you might ask? For the believing Christian, there is a lot that is wrong. See, Jesus has always told us to die to the self. He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). 

To die to the self is not the death of self. Rather it is to set aside our desire to satisfy our own needs and focus on on God and on others. This expands our hearts so that we can become truly loving people in the likeness of Christ. For the married person this becomes even more important, because as Scripture says, “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” That is Genesis 2:24, and we find Jesus quoting it here.

While one can interpret “becoming one flesh” as the physical union between couples, in a deeper sense the two become a single entity, not just for that moment of sexual union, but for the rest of their lives. If we can understand this, then a lot of what Paul writes in his letters to the Corinthians (see Chapter 7) and to the Ephesians (see Chapter 5) about marriage starts to make sense. Those who are highly individualistic find his advice to “submit to one another” offensive and resent it. They want to do their own thing.

Marriages where partners are unwilling to die to the self will always be filled with friction, and many will end up in divorce - as we can see happening all around us. On the other hand, when people are willing to set aside their own desire for emotional, physical, and intellectual satisfaction, preferring instead to satisfy their partner, such marriages will not only work, they will be good marriages. Because, as Paul says, “He who loves his wife, loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28). And vice versa.

They key is remembering that you are one.