Know How To Take a Wife?

I once asked a pastor friend of mine what I could do about my problem of lust. He looked at me, with a matter-of-fact expression, and said, “It would be easier if you were married.”

This was the kind of advice that drove me bonkers, to say the least. There was nothing more supremely annoying than being the only single guy amidst a room of married Christian men who were discussing their struggles with sexual temptation. Sure, I wasn’t so naïve to believe that married men were immune from temptation, but at the end of the night, I knew those men were going home to loving wives and—depending on the mood—were going to receive nuptial favors that night. I was going home to fall asleep to Conan O’Brien.

I am now happily engaged and will be getting married in a week. Over the past several months, as this relationship has moved into the deepest commitment, I’ve noticed a radical change take place in me, one that I did not anticipate. My battle with lust began to shift.

Let me explain . . .

About 7 months ago I decided to do what many lonely, pathetic, and single Christians are doing: I registered on eHarmony.com. I will freely admit that it was a decision born out of utter frustration and a desire for companionship. I knew by getting on eHarmony I would be preparing to meet people on the common ground of “I’m on this site to meet a person I might eventually spend my life with.” No pretense. No illusion. No strings attached.

To my surprise it actually worked. I met a wonderful woman who has blown my mind and we’re now only weeks away from being married.

Somewhere in the process of our dating relationship I noticed that my battle with lust started to shift. Why? Because I was falling in love. Because my affections were directed at her.

I say all this because I have learned something about my sexual drive: it was created to drive me towards a covenant relationship with a woman. Somewhere in my mixed up mind, I had counted my sexuality a curse, something that only got in the way as a single man.

The apostle Paul said this to the Thessalonian church:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you. For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, RSV)

The first time I read this I was a bit thrown. I love statements in the Bible that start with “this is the will of God.” Good way to get my attention. But then Paul throws this in: “that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor.” Know how to take a wife? I was never taught that in Sunday school.

I thought that something must be wrong with the translation, because surely the patron saint of singleness, the apostle Paul, wouldn’t be telling people that they need to know how to take a wife. I looked in the NASB: “that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.” That sounds more Biblical, doesn’t it? But a bit vague. How about the NIV: “that each of you should learn to control his own body.” Ah, much better. Language I was used to: control your body.

Then I saw the NIV footnote which gives an alternate translation: “or learn to acquire a wife.”

So why did the RSV choose to translate it, “know how to take a wife”? Many reasons, so I have discovered:

1. There is an obvious parallel in 1 Corinthians 7:2, “But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”

2. The meaning of the Greek work ktaomai is “take,” “procure” or “acquire,” not “control” or “possess.” Every Greek resource I found said the same thing.

3. 1 Peter 3:7 refers to one’s wife as a “vessel” and even connects this to the idea of “honor” as in this Thesslonians passage. The rabbis also frequently used “vessel” in reference to one’s wife.

4. The pronoun heautou—“his own”— fits fiancé or wife better than body. It would be a strange way to emphasize controlling one’s own body vs. someone else’s body.

5. It makes very little sense to “control your own body” in passionate lust like the heathen.

In light of this, it seems that Paul is telling the Thessalonian man to “know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor.” The command is probably directed to those who were married: learn how to enjoy your own wife, not the wife of another. But for the single, this command indicates that each man is to know the proper, healthy way of entering into the covenant of marriage.

My mind has been so trained in the opposite: unholiness and dishonor. Unholiness: I had not “set apart” my sexuality unto God, seeking to make Him the Lord of it. Dishonor: I had not honored women; I had been grabbing from them only what I desired at the moment (their body) rather than aiming at a covenant relationship called marriage.

Perhaps there are far too few men in the church today who haven’t given marriage a serious enough thought. Yes, some are called to singleness, and for those who are, God gives a vision for self-control in that context. But perhaps some of us have delayed understanding “how to take a wife.”