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Why the Husband of One Wife?

The evangelical community and the biblical truth upon which it stands remain under assault from the political correctness of our age. One of the prominent issues with which the church is struggling is the matter of pastoral leadership. In recent years, some denominations have swung the door wide open for women to serve as part of a pastoral staff and in some cases as senior pastor. And then there is the perennial argument about whether or not the church should consider a divorced man as a pastoral candidate.

In at least two places, the scriptures make clear that the bishop (pastor) is to be “the husband of one wife” (I Timothy 3, Titus 1). While it is generally accepted that the phrase has the sense “one-woman-kind-of-man”, as it pertains to character, similar usage as applied to widows would indicate one woman and only one for a lifetime. Consider Paul’s instruction in I Timothy 5. The widow indeed—one who has no living kin or familial means of support—must have been “the wife of one husband” without regard for a death or divorce in her past.

Paul’s point in context: A widow prone to remarriage is compromised in terms of her ability to be a full-time, non-distracted prayer warrior for the church. If we therefore grant the sense “one-man-kind-of-woman” for the prospective “widow indeed” as it is granted for the bishop and deacon, then far more than mere character is in view. It is clearly meant by Paul to mean one husband and only one for a lifetime. Is there any reason to believe Paul had anything less in view for the offices of bishop and deacon, making them bishops indeed and deacons indeed? Why should the church settle for less?

There are four good reasons why the pastor of a local church should be the husband of one wife—one whose past has not been blemished by a divorce and remarriage. First, the husband of one wife alone is able to reflect the unfailing love of Christ for his church. The Lord Jesus saves believers to the uttermost, promising never to leave them nor forsake them under any condition. The pastor must be a reflection (albeit flawed) of the Lord Jesus as the overseer of his church. A divorced man, without regard for who was at fault in the breakup, has forfeited the ability to replicate or simulate that image of Christ.

Secondly, the divorced pastor is guilty of breaking the most sacred contract on the planet. Before sin ever reared its ugly head within Adam’s race, the first man received instructions regarding the “leaving and cleaving” that would constitute and characterize the marriage contract. The “till death do us part” vow is a binding contract entered into by the groom and his bride before both God and men. No man who has been party to the dissolution of this sacred contract is qualified to teach others in matters pertaining to marital faithfulness and life in general.

Thirdly, the divorced pastor is guilty of fomenting the sin of fornication if his first wife remarries. And if his current wife has similarly gone through a divorce, he has committed fornication with her in consummating a physical union. Now, there is room to argue whether remarriage constitutes an act of adultery or an ongoing state of adultery, but it is clear from the Lord Jesus that at least one act of fornication is committed when a divorced man enters into another marriage.

Lastly, divorce and subsequent remarriage calls into question the ability of the man of God to walk with God at the highest level. This corresponds to the aforementioned instruction for widows indeed. It is challenging enough for the man of God to maintain a high level of intimacy with God while sharing his life with a wife (see I Corinthians 5). But the divorcement from one woman followed by the marriage of another (notwithstanding the proper gifts of God for marriage) indicates that God alone is insufficient to provide fullness of life for that man. This exactly Paul’s point about the widow indeed!

Some would argue that grace is the great equalizer that can cleanse a sordid past and fit a saved sinner for any and all manner of service in the kingdom. The problem with this logic is that divorce, while subject to remedy through reconciliation and recommitment to the original vows, cannot be forgiven (i.e., erased). Consider the ten year-old boy who suffers the loss of a finger while playing with firecrackers. The parents of that nine-fingered boy can certainly forgive him for his foolish and debilitating conduct, but there is no forgiveness available for the amputation of his finger—now a permanent liability in his future. So it is with divorce. A man or woman can certainly be forgiven by God and their fellow man for the foolish and selfish attitudes that dissolved the most sacred of contracts. But the putting asunder of a marriage—the most horrific of amputations—is a blemish that divorced men and women will carry to their graves.

Now, it must be said that there are God-called divorced men who are still out there serving in pastoral ministry. These men, however, have not remarried, but rather have purposed in their hearts to obey the scripture, remaining unmarried pending a reconciliation with or the death of their former spouse. In such cases where a one-woman-kind-of-man character remains in tact, gracious congregations continue to benefit from their pastor's faithfulness to both live and preach the Word of God.

In closing, the following question is in order: Can the divorced man or woman be Spirit-filled and useful in kingdom work? Absolutely! But the offices of pastor and deacon are two for which a divorced and remarried man is disqualified for the reasons cited. I am reminded of an admonition that a pastor friend of mine issues to engaged couples who attend his premarital counseling sessions: “God has given you one shot at marriage…so make it a good one!”

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