There are different stages of marriage. We’re all familiar with the honeymoon phase. Then there is also the juncture when you realize you’ve been married longer than you were single. From there people go to the stage where they really can’t remember much of what it was like before they were married.
The most important phase in marriage doesn’t fit neatly on a timeline. It is possible at any point but it rarely happens overnight or without a good deal of personal growth. It is the stage where it becomes difficult to think of yourself without thinking of your spouse. I don’t mean that you can’t, but it has become your default setting. Your spouse is a part of who you are. When he or she is away you feel that a part of you is missing. It’s the same way you feel about your children (who really are a part of you)—only it’s even more intense.
This sets off alarms for some people. They become uncomfortable with the idea of merging with their mate (or anyone) to such a degree. Our hyper-individualistic culture has us deeply suspicious of anything that might be a threat to self-actualizing.
The truth is that such blendedness is part of God’s goal for marriage. “That is why a man leaves his father and his mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). What happens in the flesh is a symbol of the oneness God desires overall. In the context of Genesis, this oneness between husband and wife reflects the oneness of the Father, Son and Spirit. Man (as male and female) is created in the image of the God (1:27, 5:1-2) who is a plural unity (note the “us” in Genesis 1:26). By pursuing oneness in marriage, husbands and wives experientially learn about the God who exists in loving blendedness.
When Paul speaks to Timothy and Titus about what kind of man to appoint to be part of the leadership in the congregations at Ephesus and Crete, one of the first things he mentions is that he must be “faithful to his wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). That’s the reading of the updated NIV. The original NIV translated it as “the husband of but one wife,” which is also how the ESV, RSV, and NASB translate it (except they omit the conjunction “but”). What exactly does the phrase “husband of one wife” mean?
Our first guess would probably be that this would prohibit someone who was in a polygamous (multiple wives) situation. Although we read about that occasionally in the Old Testament, it wasn’t a common situation in the first century so it doesn’t seem likely that this is what Paul is addressing. Others think it is Paul’s way of saying that a shepherd must be in his first marriage—not divorced and remarried. The problem with this reading is that if we take it this way, then it would also apply to a man whose wife died and he remarried and on anyone’s view that wouldn’t disqualify someone from leadership.
So maybe we shouldn’t be looking at “one” in a quantitative way—we should think about it in a qualitative way. What if Paul was telling Timothy and Titus they should be looking for men who have reached this “oneness” stage in their marriage? Later, when talks to Timothy about widows who should receive church support he says they should be “the wife of one husband/man” (5:9 ESV, RSV and NASB). He goes on to list good deeds they should be involved in so this appears to be a text where older widows are being considered for some type of ministry.
If this is the way to understand these passages, it certainly reinforces what we find in the early chapters of Genesis. I think it also should temper our approach to passages like Ephesians 5:22-33. Instead of seeing the context as husbands vs. wives, we should view it as couples practicing the oneness that characterizes the Godhead.
In all of this, we learn that marriage is more than two people living together under the same roof. It is more than two people staying together for a lifetime. It is intended by our Father to be a beautiful blending where two become one.
Blessed are the blended!